Dave Greenberg was a rescue pilot for more than 25 years. In this edited extract from his new book, he reveals how he helped save Stevin Creeggan after the Anzac Day Defence Force chopper crash in 2010 and the profound impact it had on his own life.

I was elated when I suddenly spotted an airman making his way through the tall bush. At first I thought it must be a crew member from the missing helicopter, but as he was heading in the same direction as us, it made no sense.

I pointed him out to Harry [Stevenson - chief pilot], who told me he heard from the other helicopter that a crewman had left his Iroquois and was running into the bush to try and find his mates.

He was a rescuer, not a survivor.

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We discussed stopping and winching him up into our helicopter but decided to keep moving forward while the visibility was okay.

We could always return and pick him up later.

Seconds later we rounded a bend and spread directly in front of us across a large area was the wreckage of the Iroquois.

I felt sickened as I looked down at the crash scene.

Parts of the crash site were still shrouded in the cloud and mist, making it even more eerie. This didn't look like a survivable crash. Helicopter debris was scattered for hundreds of metres, and it was clear that the helicopter had hit the hill at speed. We could see someone lying near the wreckage who was either unconscious or dead, but it was impossible to tell from the air.

As we approached the crash site we spotted the crewman with the injured survivor, Stevin Creeggan, about 25 metres downhill from the main wreckage.

Stevin Creeggan at the Wellington District Court hearing into the crash. Photo / Mark MItchell
Stevin Creeggan at the Wellington District Court hearing into the crash. Photo / Mark MItchell

The two of them were braced against a bush to prevent them from rolling down the hill.

We winched Pete [Collins - crewman] and his gear down to them and then moved off a bit so our downdraft and noise didn't affect them. One of the light-hearted moments in an otherwise rugged morning was watching Pete's ambulance pack roll down the hill soon after he disconnected from the winch hook. As I watched the crewman race after it, I imagined Pete telling him: "I need to look after him, you go get the bag."

Pete did a quick assessment of Stevin, and although the mechanism of injury suggested that he would be more severely injured, all that was obvious were leg and chest injuries.

He was conscious, responding to commands and had a good airway.

Pete radioed us and we all agreed that we would use our nappy harness, not a stretcher, to winch him to the helicopter as we would need more rescuers on the ground to use the stretcher.

Using the nappy would be quicker and allow Pete to continue searching for other survivors.

Normally, when we use the nappy harness, our paramedic would accompany the patient up to the helicopter.

On any other day, someone as seriously injured as Stevin would be flown directly from the scene to Wellington Hospital, a 12-minute flight at most. However, there was still a chance of finding more survivors, and we were the only helicopter at the scene which could winch them out in a timely manner.

When they were ready, we moved into position and sent the winch hook down. When he was on the hook, Pete and the crewman helped guide Stevin out from under the bush and once he was clear we brought him up to the helicopter. I put a secondary safety strop on Stevin and left him sitting in the doorway for the short flight because it was obvious it would be too painful for him to be moved inside.

The helicopter crash site near Pukerua Bay. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The helicopter crash site near Pukerua Bay. Photo / Mark Mitchell

I didn't recognise Stevin as I sat next to him in the doorway, but given his bloodied and battered face and body, I most likely wouldn't have recognised him even if our paths had crossed before. Regardless of whether we had ever met, I felt a bond with him unlike I have felt on any other mission.

Today I was winching him out of a helicopter crash; on another day, he could be winching me out. I wanted to give him a big hug but it looked like that would be too painful for him.

The plan was to load him on to an ambulance stretcher and send him on a 30-minute road ambulance journey under lights and siren.

Unfortunately, I was unable to communicate my plan to the ambulance crew waiting in the parking area and we caught them by surprise.

They were expecting Pete to be with the patient, but it was only me and the patient sitting in the doorway. I signalled to the ambulance officers to come over to us, but they didn't move.

I found this very frustrating, even though, in hindsight, they were right and I was wrong.

Ambulance officers are trained to never approach a running helicopter unless they are escorted by someone from the helicopter. They did exactly what they were trained to do, and no matter how much I waved, they weren't approaching.

Instead of taking the time to go over and explain to them what was going on, I waved over one of the Iroquois crewmen and we took the ambulance stretcher from the startled ambulance officers.

We brought it to the helicopter, and then as gently as possible, used the winch to lower Stevin on to the stretcher.

We rolled the ambulance stretcher back to the ambulance officers and I gave them the best patient handover I could. I told them the helicopter needed to remain on-scene and they needed to drive him through to the hospital.

Dave Greenberg is unloading a stretcher at Tauherenikau Racecourse. Photo / Andrew Bonallack
Dave Greenberg is unloading a stretcher at Tauherenikau Racecourse. Photo / Andrew Bonallack

They did an absolutely sterling job, particularly considering neither of them was an intensive care paramedic and they had a seriously injured patient thrust at them unexpectedly. They headed off to hospital, asking for a more highly trained paramedic to meet them en route. Once they headed off, Harry and I waited for word from the crash site.

A few minutes later, word came. There were no other survivors.

The news that there were no other survivors quickly spread across the landing area and shattered the hope that had built after Stevin was rescued.

Everyone seemed to stop what they were doing to take in the news.

It was a poignant moment of silence on the very day we remembered those who had sacrificed everything for New Zealand.

We returned to our base to clean up, refuel and be ready for our next call-out. I called the hospital and was thankful to hear that Stevin had made it alive.

He was currently in ICU and due to head to theatre shortly.

Our decision not to fly him directly to the hospital seemed okay, at this point anyway. My logical brain told me that in such a high-speed accident where three people had died and the sole survivor had so many serious injuries, he was likely to die, too.

Once we got him out of the ravine, anything else we did, or didn't do, would probably not affect his outcome. Unfortunately for me, this was not a logical problem - it was an emotional one.

Low cloud prevented us from returning to the crash site to winch out the three who didn't survive the crash.

I didn't personally know the pilot, Hayden Peter Madsen, co-pilot Daniel Stephen Gregory, or crewman Benjamin Andrew Carson, but their deaths have left a permanent scar on my soul.

Even though Harry and I didn't end up winching them from the scene, I still feel humbled and honoured that the air force asked us to do it. It was a long and emotional day, and by the end of it I was ready for a decent meal, some good wine and a hug. My close friends ensured I had plenty of all three.

Harry and I were invited to the combined funeral for the three aircrew at Ohakea Base later in the week.

Three Iroquois arrived, each carrying the body of one of the aircrew. The sound of them arriving is forever fixed in my mind, as is the sound of the bagpipes which led the procession of caskets into the large hangar where the service was held.

To say it was an emotional service would be an understatement. The funeral was followed by an immense celebration of the three men's lives. It had been a big week full of highs and lows. The week had such a sad outcome for so many people, but there was a survivor and we did our best for him.

Stevin was in the ICU for more than a week before he was released to a ward. Eleven days after his accident he was doing well enough to be transported to Palmerston North Hospital, the hospital nearest to his home. We would be flying him on the fixed-wing, and I arranged to be on the flight with him and his mum.

He was very excited to hear that he would be flying, especially because he thought it would be on the helicopter. I was surprised that he wanted to get back on a helicopter so soon after the crash but I told him I would see what I could do.

The three of us, plus the air force crewman who left his helicopter and ran through the scrub and bush on Anzac Day, also received a New Zealand Search and Rescue Award.

Although both awards were nice, nothing was as satisfying as watching Stevin slowly and purposefully getting on with his life.

Even more special is the way in which I am greeted by his parents each time I see them. The way they look at me and the hugs they give me are the best reminders of why I so loved the job I did on the helicopter.

The difference our teams make to other people's lives is indescribable.

It still seems amazing to me that Stevin survived the crash and was eventually able to walk out of hospital, albeit with a Zimmer frame. His list of injuries is unbelievable: 18 fractures to face; tear drop fracture to C2 vertebra; flail chest; haemo-pneumothorax; collapsed left lung; lacerated spleen; fractured neck of femur; fractured midshaft of femur; T11, T12 and L1 fused due to crushed/compressed and fractured vertebrae; traumatic dislocation of right elbow; fractured sternum; fractured left shoulder blade; fractured bones in right hand; fractured bones in right foot; burns to both hands and face; lacerations to face; penetrating injury to left eye; soft tissue damage to right shoulder; soft tissue damage to right knee; two fractured teeth; and traumatic brain injury.

Stevin will always be a mate as well as a reminder of why I was so lucky to do the job I loved for 25 years.

Emergency Response: Life, death and helicopters is available from Monday. Published by Random House, RRP $40.