On the fateful day of LauraStuart's mountain biking accident four St John team members were sent deep into the Whakarewarewa mountain bike park.
Steve Brake, St John intensive care paramedic, says the forest presents a unique challenge for the team when they are called to injured patients.
"The forest presents a hugely challenging environment for us to deal with. We have about 35 to 40 kilos of gear that we have to carry to do our job on top of a potentially 60 to 120kg patient, with the issue of often having to carry them out."
He and paramedic Trudy Haringa were in the rescue helicopter trying to spot Ms Stuart.
Those with Ms Stuart were doing their best to provide location information on a patchy cell phone network. The call taker was working hard to clarify a location and get GPS co ordinates for the helicopter-there was no road access to where Ms Stuart lay.
What seemed from the ground to be an easy place for the helicopter to see was quite difficult to spot from the air.
"When we looked down from the helicopter the clearing looked about the size of my fingernail from the sky," Mr Brake said.
Meanwhile emergency medical technician Kylie Parker and paramedic Mike France were embarking on an hour and a half's trek on foot over muddy, rocky tracks to reach Ms Stuart, who was lying deep in a gully.
As Mr France went back to get the ambulance so the helicopter could follow it through the forest, Ms Parker met a mountain biker heading out to get help-he showed her the way back in.
Her initial assessment of Ms Stuart indicated she would need to go directly to Middlemore Hospital using the spinal cord injury procedure. She was able to provide valuable information to help the helicopter crew find them.
At this point the sun was beginning to go down, making a helicopter extraction potentially too dangerous. The emergency dispatcher activated Police Land Search and Rescue in case daylight was lost.
"Working from the helicopter requires constant adjustment to plans and modification to the rescue as new obstacles or information presents.
"With LSAR on board we still had the plan of flying to Auckland once the patient was out of the forest if we needed to abandon the winch rescue. This was starting to develop as plan B . . . By thinking about this early we could minimise delays.
Thankfully we made it to the patient in time to effect the winch rescue and head directly to Auckland," Mr Brake said.
When the helicopter finally found the accident scene rescuers had to contend with a massive cliff face above it and tall trees below while sending the winch through a small opening.
Ms Stuart was winched into the helicopter at 8pm, and flown to the helipad for stabilising.
Discussions with the clinical desk confirmed her as meeting the spinal cord policy and the helicopter set off with her for Middlemore Hospital. And with the weather closing in at Rotorua some tricky flying was needed to eventually get everyone safely home.
"First and foremost this job was about a team approach . . . Credit must also extend to the staff in clinical control, which assisted in providing coordination and support as the job
unfolded," Mr Brake said.
"I feel very lucky to have been a part of the team on this job and look forward to continuing to provide support and assistance in the future."
- To donate to the St John Annual Appeal to help them buy new ambulances and vital life saving equipment go to www.stjohn.org.nz.