Chopper pilot crashed to save life

Last updated 11:53 11/07/2014

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The Marlborough pilot who crashed his helicopter into a gully says he did what he had to do to save the life of his hunting mate.

In an interview with 3 News from his bed at Wellington Hospital, Grant McCallum, 45, said his split-second decision to crash the helicopter at a Grassmere farm on Sunday morning was his only option.

The helicopter went down after McCallum went to get Sam Kersten off the hill. But the 31-year-old Blenheim father of two jumped on the skid too quickly and slipped down, not letting go.

"I knew when I saw Sam's shadow on the hill that he had a death grip on the skid and he wasn't going to let go."

McCallum dropped the helicopter down twice, yelling at Kersten to let go, but he panicked and held on.

McCallum believed his only option was to turn the helicopter into the hill. Kersten would be flung in the other direction, but his fall would not be as great.

"I knew there was a chance of hurting him that way, but I knew I wouldn't kill him," McCallum said.

Kersten remains in Christchurch Hospital after surgery in Wellington. Both his legs are broken, and his hips and ribs are injured.

A Christchurch Hospital spokeswoman said yesterday he was in a serious but stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit. He would eventually be transferred to the spinal unit at Burwood Hospital.

The Express understands although his spine was damaged, early signs indicated he would not lose the use of his legs.

Kersten, a keen hunter, runs a fencing company and lives in Blenheim with his wife and two young children.

McCallum said he couldn't let Kersten's children lose their dad.

"I just did what I knew was right, that's it," he told 3 News.

"There's no way Sam was not going home to his kids."

All he could think of was Kersten's young family, he said.

"He's got young kids. I've been through that.

In 1998, his children Stuart McCallum, 5, Katie, 4, toddler Billy and their mother, Tracey McCallum, were killed when their car hit a bank and burst into flames on the Port Underwood Road, 20km north of Blenheim.

"I wouldn't make anyone else go through it," McCallum said.

He broke several bones in the crash, but he was extremely grateful to his rescuers, Wellington hospital and everyone who have supported him, he said.

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- The Marlborough Express

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