Julian Smith knew he was in a bad way immediately after he lost his footing on Mt Ruapehu.

"I started climbing down and the next thing I knew I was airborne. Apparently, I screamed," the visiting Kiwi ex-pat said.

"I saw sky and gravel and rock flash before my eyes. The next thing I knew I was on the ground in a bit of a crumpled heap."

Smith, a teacher who lives in Queensland, was visiting New Zealand to celebrate his mother's 75th birthday with family.

Three generations were going to enjoy the Sky Waka gondola at Whakapapa before a climb to the top of Pinnacle Ridge.

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"My mum is a keen walker and we all love the outdoors," he said.

The group made it up with ease - it was a perfect, crisp autumn day in mid-March and the sun shone overhead.

Smith and his sister decided to make an extra push for the summit of Te Heuheu before heading back.

The pair were descending an ashy slope littered with rocky outcrops when they came across a small bluff they needed to manoeuvre themselves over.

Julian Smith pictured about 30 minutes before the accident. Photo / Supplied
Julian Smith pictured about 30 minutes before the accident. Photo / Supplied

Smith deviated from the way they came up, picking a route slightly less travelled but which still had visible footprints from other hikers.

But then he slipped and went sprawling several metres down the mountain.

"I don't even know how I stumbled, my best guess is that a rock gave way from underneath me but I just don't know."

Hitting something on the way down, he immediately knew he was in a bad way.

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"My first thought was I am going to need a helicopter. I knew I had done something to myself."

Lying face down, his battered body was covered in grazes and he was bleeding from a head wound.

Julian Smith's sister covered him in a sleeping bag while they waited for help. Photo / Supplied
Julian Smith's sister covered him in a sleeping bag while they waited for help. Photo / Supplied

Pain ran the length of his body but the worst of it made him think his pelvis was broken.

Mentally he ran a careful inventory assessing his injuries, among the good signs were that he could wiggle his toes and he still had all his teeth.

His sister tried calling for help on a cellphone that kept cutting out and they set off a personal locator beacon (PLB) to alert emergency services.

She managed to slip his backpack off one side, before cutting the other strap away from the arm that was pinned down.

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A sleeping bag in Smith's pack and a beanie helped keep him warm while they waited for help.

"I am really surprised at the clarity of mind I had," he said.

"You normally expect blind panic but I just wasn't there. I was very much in problem-solving mode."

He was determined to stay positive, light-hearted and communicative throughout the ordeal.

Greenlea Rescue Helicopter crewman Mark Bond said they were lucky good conditions allowed the helicopter to land on the ridge to rescue the pair.

"There was a gentle breeze and it was very clear."

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Intensive care paramedic Rob Keating walked about 100m uphill, joining the Ruapehu Alpine Rescue Organisation (Raro) member who had already reached Smith, and they placed him on a stretcher.

The Greenlea Rescue Helicopter landed near the scene to unload a paramedic to help Julian Smith. He was then hover loaded into the helicopter. Photo / Greenlea Rescue Helicopter
The Greenlea Rescue Helicopter landed near the scene to unload a paramedic to help Julian Smith. He was then hover loaded into the helicopter. Photo / Greenlea Rescue Helicopter

Smith was then hover-loaded into the rescue helicopter.

"Where the rescuers were standing was quite slippery so it was difficult for them to lift him up, and get him up towards the helicopter," Bond said.

Smith was further treated at a nearby carpark before being flown to Rotorua Hospital.

Bond said Smith was very well prepared for the day trip up the mountain.

"The sort of people who go up the mountain and throw a sleeping bag in just in case, are exactly the sort of people we want doing that stuff all the time.

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"Far too many people go up, not necessarily on Ruapehu but probably more so on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, who are unprepared."

Preparation was key, he said, and he praised the use of a PLB because it gave such a specific location to rescuers.

"It makes a huge difference."

Julian Smith is comforted after the fall by his mother Raewyn Kerekes. Photo / Supplied
Julian Smith is comforted after the fall by his mother Raewyn Kerekes. Photo / Supplied

Smith credits his rescuers on the ground and the medical professionals at every stage of his care as amazing.

"It was very much like what you see in those hospital dramas on TV. It was a very, very slick operation," he said, recalling when he entered hospital.

"I was sort of filed through a gauntlet of people who all had their own little jobs. They checked me over thoroughly. It was so, so efficient.

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"I turned my head to the side and I could see all the stuff they had written on the wall - they obviously had a meeting before I was there and were briefed on what had happened."

Smith's leg was placed in a type of traction. But spasming muscles in his chest would contract in a "great big crunch".

"That was really, really painful. It would not take much to trigger that. It would be a loud noise or if I moved my arm or anything."

An X-ray showing the anterior view of the pelvis break. Photo / Supplied
An X-ray showing the anterior view of the pelvis break. Photo / Supplied

While in hospital Smith found out Australia and New Zealand were restricting the border, implementing a 14-day isolation on travellers in the fight against Covid-19.

The new rules stalled Smith from going to Middlemore Hospital for surgery but his doctors advocated for him to go and he returned a negative test for the infectious disease.

When he finally made it to Auckland for the surgery nine days after the accident, "incredible" surgeons operated on his fractured pelvis in two hours.

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"There is quite a bit of hardware in there now," he said.

Smith was discharged from Middlemore Hospital on March 28 and went to stay with his mother in Warkworth.

Finally homebound after a prolonged stay in New Zealand he was allowed to self-isolate with his wife and two children once back in Australia.

Smith said the experience left him with many lessons.

"How equipped are you when it really comes to a difficult situation?"

Previous experience tramping, having first aid training and a kit, packing a sleeping bag and a spare phone battery pack had all made a huge difference, he said.

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He has since written to the medical team at Rotorua Hospital expressing gratitude for his care.

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