Joe and Suzanne Bannister offer their thanks to Life Flight’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

GIANINA SCHWANECKE
gianina.schwanecke@age.co.nz

It was one of the most difficult winch rescues of Life Flight crewman Mike Beausoleil’s career, after a hunting trip gone wrong.

Beausoleil was operating the winch on the night of December 17, when the Life Flight crew responded to a hunter who had badly broken his leg after falling from a cliff in the Haurangi Forest Park.

Masterton man Joe Bannister had set off with his friend Dave McKay earlier that day.

He was carrying a young deer, which he had just shot, down a steep hill across a cliff face when the ground gave way, causing him to fall 40 metres below and seriously injure his leg.

“On the way down my boot got caught in some bedrock sticking out from the side. It cranked my foot at right angles, ripped all the ligaments off my ankle and broke one of the bones below the knee.”

The incident happened just after 9pm and the two hunters knew Bannister would not be able to walk out on his own.

“It’s very isolated and it was right on dark. I took one hoppy step with my boot kind of swinging and [McKay] said ‘there’s no way you’re getting out with that’.”

Bannister used his personal locator beacon to broadcast an emergency message and his location to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

“It was one of the trickier winching jobs they had done, because of the height and the wind. They couldn’t get me out because of the trees so we had to move about 30 metres down the riverbed.”

Beausoleil and the helicopter crew arrived around 11pm, by which time it was dark and difficult to see.

He said it was one of the most challenging jobs of his career.

“A very high winch due to the steepness of the valley, high winds in the lee side of the mountain and extremely dark. The medic had to stand in the river as it was the only area clear of trees to winch out.”

After being taken to Wellington Hospital, Bannister still has six weeks of recovery ahead of him but is very grateful to the Life Flight team for rescuing him.

“My wife Suzanne and I offer you our most heartfelt thanks. Your professionalism led to a speedy and positive result.”

The Masterton couple have a long association with Life Flight, as Suzanne works as a nurse at Wairarapa Hospital and Joe has previously volunteered for Search and Rescue with Life Flight co-founder, the late Peter Button.

Bannister said he was glad he had his locator beacon to hand. He uses it almost daily as a sheep and beef farmer.

“It would have been a very different story without my locator beacon. They are worth their weight in gold.”