Mt Pirongia rescue first for new winch

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
Gail Mourral gets winched off the summit of Mt Pirongia
Supplied
UP AND AWAY: Gail Mourral, 24, gets winched off the summit of Mt Pirongia in the Waikato-King Country Westpac Rescue Helicopter with St John intensive care paramedic and crew member Mike Pudney.

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When Gail Mourral collapsed on the summit of Mt Pirongia she booked a date with a virgin winch.

The 24-year-old from Hamilton was on a training tramp in preparation for this weekend's 100km Oxfam Trailwalker fundraiser in Taupo at the time. She strode up the Tahuanui Track for four hours and saw the view before heat stroke struck.

"It was horrible," she said, yesterday.

"It's hard to explain, it was like a really bad migraine. We tried to walk back a bit then we figured I'm not going to walk down like that."

Fortunately for Mourral, search and rescue personnel were training on the mountain that day and they decided she needed to be airlifted to Waikato Hospital.

The Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter team who answered the call were pilot Dan Harcourt, crewman Simon Barton and paramedic Mike Pudney.

It was the first winch job for the new $4.5m chopper.

Barton is also the Phillips Search and Rescue Trust crew trainer.

The technology is detachable and attaches to the helicopter's left side above the door.

Barton reels off its specifications: brand, Shinko, lift capacity 272kg, 45m cable constructed of 133 stainless steel wires, it's 75kg, and costs up to $220,000.

Yet it's a last resort due to the risk involved, he said.

If the team can't get in to land or hover near the ground to load the patient then the hoist becomes invaluable.

Barton has been training the Waikato crew in the air and at the hoist simulator in the hangar.

To become a basic hoist operator in the trust a crewman needs 15 hours experience in the air and 80 on the ground, and every three months they must requalify. "If you're going to get engine fail it's going to be in the take off, landing or hover," Barton said.

"There's quite often adverse weather so you can be getting kicked about. You may not have enough cable and you can be in amongst trees and cliffs."

Managing these problems is the hoist operator's task. They stand outside on the skid and direct the pilot in a succinct flow of directions known as "patter".

Some struggle to get to grips with it and they won't qualify, Barton said.

Everything went smoothly while rescuing Mourral.

She was strapped into the "red nappy" and hoisted to safety without a hitch.

matt.bowen@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

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