Weather too fierce for chopper to lift out man seriously hurt felling trees

It was a battle by everyman heroes against everything the weather and terrain could throw at them.

Neighbours and volunteer firefighters braved atrocious weather and near complete darkness to save a Northland man badly injured in a remote gully.

To some dismay, one outcome is a workplace safety investigation after a volunteer fireman broke his collarbone as he slipped from a quad bike ferrying rescue equipment.

Details emerged this week of the valiant rescue of 35-year-old Aaran Pascoe in the teeth of a vicious storm that battered the top of the country last weekend.


Conditions were so treacherous a rescue helicopter was forced back - leaving a team of 30 firefighters, locals and ambulance officers to carry the severely injured Ruatangata man more than 1.5km over slippery, steep terrain.

Pascoe is recovering in Whangarei Hospital after plates were inserted into his broken spine.

The man in charge of the operation on a farm 45 minutes northwest of Whangarei praises the actions of neighbours who happened upon the man's partner as she was out looking around her Marlow Rd property.

Neighbour Lynley Derrick said her partner Andy Taylor, Scott Weston-Arnold, Grant Fallon and his pregnant St John Ambulance volunteer daughter Gayle and her husband Craig Bushett, took quad bikes to look for the missing man who was last heard using his chainsaw at the back of his hilly property that day.

They found him by following his calls for help.

Hikurangi chief fire officer Snow Buckton said if it had not been for the neighbours, firefighters would have been brought in to recover a body.

Pascoe was found down a steep gully, unable to move after a felled tree struck him in the back. He spent almost 11 hours lying in the rain.

Weston-Arnold, an experienced pig hunter, was the first to reach Pascoe.

"I saw a knee up in the scrub with my spotlight. He was lying on a ledge and was in a lot of pain.

"I put my jacket on him and grabbed his hand."

Weston-Arnold said the injured man was cold and his speech slurred but he murmured, "I stuffed up."

Emergency services were called just moments before a severe electrical storm hit.

"Ten minutes later and they wouldn't have found him," said Derrick. Buckton said it was a perilous rescue, "It was absolutely atrocious. It was muddy underfoot and slippery clay," he said, "You had to be like a mountain goat."

Weston-Arnold said Pascoe's stretcher was inched up the slope with ropes.

At one point rescuers formed a human barricade to support those carrying the stretcher across a fast-flowing, swollen stream.

It was ankle deep when they'd crossed an hour earlier.

He said the storm meant rescuers were in danger of being struck by lightning or falling trees.

Plans to fly the injured man to hospital were abandoned after the storm proved too dangerous for the Northland Emergency Services Trust rescue helicopter.

Pilot Pete Turnbull said he spent 24 minutes trying to approach Riponui from the east before giving up.

With thunder booming overhead and lightning illuminating the valley volunteers worked in teams of up to eight to carry Pascoe over 1km of uneven, muddy terrain to the waiting ambulance. They got there at 1.15am, and Pascoe was put into an ambulance, 14 hours after he was hit by the log.

Buckton marvelled at the way the community rallied, especially the pair who asked Pascoe's partner why she was out driving around.

"Whether they were farmers or local civilians to other brigades from Towai and Whangarei and the ambulance officers, it was just magic."

But he said this was the nature of volunteer brigades up and down the country, where locals put aside their lives to perform remarkable feats.

When he started 33 years ago, they attended 12 callouts a year.

This year the brigade had been to 130 incidents.

Backblocks folk pitch in

People in the backblocks know the score and pitch in when things get rough.

Whangarei-Kaipara Fire Service area manager Mike Lister said people in isolated areas often have to take matters into their own hands.

"We've often got to rely on our own ingenuity and getting out there and doing it."

He said last Saturday night's search and rescue operation was nothing short of epic and a fabulous demonstration of a community rallying in a challenging situation.

The emergency services were hampered by atrocious conditions and had to make calculated risks given the dangers they faced - something that happened frequently in rural areas.

He said everyone who took part in last week's rescue deserved congratulations.

"They had to go through adverse conditions to get the injured person out and into hospital. I'd like to thank them very much for their services."

The Fire Service can always do with new volunteers: 0800FIRERECRUIT.