When your rescue helicopter is tasked to a mission, it’s because it is the fastest, best and in many cases, the only option. For Alison this was certainly the case.
Halfway through one of New Zealand's most stunning one-day walks, among volcanic terrain, Alison King from Rotorua had just come off the scoria downhill section on the Tongariro Crossing. The ground underfoot was still uneven and loose when the unimaginable happened.
“I'd just come off what I thought was the most treacherous section - the downhill scoria after the Red Crater.
“My friends Vicky and Stu were about 50m ahead. I had one foot on the ground, went to take another step forward with my right but my right foot slipped, and I fell backwards.
“My left foot didn't move at all, instead…my ankle broke. When I slipped backwards, I didn't feel a sharp break, but as I landed, I saw my foot was just dangling from my leg, so I knew it was bad.”
It was a picture-perfect summer morning on 30th January 2022. This was Alison’s second crossing; the first time was Christmas 2010, and the weather wasn't great then. Alison didn't see the lakes until she was almost upon them.
“Returning, had been one of my goals the past couple of years. I have a list of things I want to do each year and the crossing has been on that list since 2019. In January I decided I would walk it before the end of the season. I just wanted to see the lakes, so I guess I got that wish!”
As soon as Alison fell, she knew she had done some major damage and that she wouldn't be able to walk the rest of the way. With no phone reception where Alison fell, Vicky had to hike further down the hill to get reception. Luckily for the friends, a couple of hikers who were resting nearby were able to get through to 111.
It was with relief that Alison, Vicky, and Stu could hear the rescue helicopter coming. “As we'd been walking, we'd talked about how it was an ideal movie location for Mission Impossible.
“We had discussed the helicopter and which direction it would come in. When the rescue helicopter came into sight it was just like I'd pictured it could be in the movie.”
Alison had broken her left ankle in two places (A bimalleolar fracture). Inaccessible by road, Alison knew she would be in good hands with the Greenlea Rescue Helicopter Crew, and the time-saving flight to Rotorua Hospital, which took about 45 minutes.
For the keen 5km parkrunner, the recovery has been lengthy. Alison spent 5 nights in hospital and now her cast is off her recovery is coming along on leaps and bounds.
“Last week I was able to use my crutches and moonboot to walk very slowly. It seems so small, but it feels like such a massive improvement on using a walking frame with one leg in a cast and unable to bear any weight.”
Thinking back to the experience, both Alison and Vicky highlight that preparedness in that terrain is essential.
“We made sure we had food, water, layers, our mobile phones and ibuprofen…however our phones didn’t have a signal, and there isn’t much ibuprofen can do when your ankle is broken so I have gone out and bought a travel first aid kit and I know where I can hire a PLB for such walks,” says Vicky.
“My advice is be prepared…. even if a walk says it’s a 1-day hike it doesn’t mean it’s easy.
We were lucky it was a glorious day; I found a nurse who could strap up Alison, and we found someone with a phone signal! I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t have luck on our side!”
For Alison, it’s made her more conscious about the difficulties people with disabilities face and how privileged she is to have access to treatment that will return her to her prior good health.
“The crew were amazing. It doesn’t matter the terrain; they will find a way to get to you. I enjoyed chatting with Michael the paramedic and know I'm a statistic and one of many patients they transport, but the care and attention was superb. I don't think I could say ‘thank you’ enough times.
“If there hadn't been a helicopter available, I would have had a very uncomfortable (and long) journey out.”
Pilot Nat shares that sentiment, “A helicopter pilot needs to have a real blend of skills; flying day or night, in any type of weather conditions, flying with night vision goggles, operating under high pressure situations.”
The friends’ share their final message;