Not long after Ponty von Dadelszen was lifted out of the Whanganui National Park, on the way to the popular Bridge to Nowhere, he knew he wanted to donate to the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.
“As a farmer I’ve got some idea of what helicopter’s cost to run, they’re not cheap toys, so it’s the least I can do,” says Ponty.
The Central Hawke’s Bay farmer is all too familiar with the vital role that helicopters play in rural New Zealand.
“They [Rescue Helicopters] provide a fabulous service and we’re lucky to have them, our neighbours have needed the service in the past due to farm injuries.”
But it wasn’t on the farm where Ponty found himself in need of assistance, as part of a keen mountain bike group of nine – a mix of serious riders and cycling enthusiasts – on the Bridge to Nowhere track he found himself in trouble after misjudging a part of the track.
“I was trundling along through the bush a few kilometres from the Bridge itself, and when I came out of the bush there was a swing bridge hard to my right,” Ponty recalls.
“I overshot the bridge, slammed on my anchors which put me totally off balance, and fell backwards onto it across the support rope. As it happened I thought, ‘shit, this going to hurt’.”
Despite being in pain he dusted himself off, while the group wheeled his bike across the narrow swing bridge.
“I walked across the bridge, got on my bike on the other side and went another 20 or 30 metres and had to stop because I was so sore,” it turned out Ponty had broken seven ribs.
“There was no way I was getting out of there on my own, the bridges were too narrow to get a four-wheeler in, and I was in too much pain to walk to out on my own.”
The area had no cell phone coverage, and while a personal locator beacon was available, it wasn’t activated due to human error.
However, some carried on and requested the jet boat staff to dial 111 and let them know what had happened. Crucially the accident occurred near a large clearing in the bush and some quick thinking by the group helped assist the helicopter locate Ponty.
“We were to search for a mountain biker in distress after a fall. Following the track from the Bridge to Nowhere we scouted for a few miles until we came across a large overgrown clearing which conveniently had a giant H stomped into the grass near the bush line,” said crewman Ed Garvey.
“This indicator told us we had likely found the party concerned, and so after checking it out from the sky, made an approach to land. The simple task of marking that visible H (for helicopter) made finding Ponty and his mates a breeze.”
“Heath [intensive care paramedic] and I figured he had some ribs broken, but we didn’t think it was seven! He handled the pain with much less fuss than some folk we’ve seen with one or two broken ribs,” says Garvey.
Despite being in obvious discomfort Ponty was able to keep his sense of humour even finding time to joke with pilot Craig Chaplin.
“I live in the Hawke’s Bay and you couldn’t get further away from there than New Plymouth, so the helicopter ended up taking me Whanganui. I actually asked the pilot if he could drop me in Palmerston North, and he said ‘it’s not a taxi service mate!’”.
After two nights in Whanganui Hospital Ponty returned home to Waipukarau where he continues his recovery but is not quite ready to get back on a mountain bike again.
“I’ll probably leave it for another week or two, I thought of having a ride the other day and I thought it wasn’t a good idea.”
Ponty suggested doing their research before taking on the track and encouraged anyone in the outdoors to be prepared heading into the summer months when more and more kiwis enjoy what the country has to offer.
“You can guarantee something like this will happen again, so it’s important to have a Plan B if you head into the outdoors in case something goes wrong,” said Ponty.
Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Summer Safety Tips
These sentiments are echoed by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter crew, especially heading into the busy summer season.
- Plan your route, tell someone your return time – and most importantly tell them to notify the police if you don’t make your return time.
- A personal locator beacon (PLB) provides one of the best safety mechanisms for you, your family or your mates when you are out and about in the great outdoors this summer. PLBs can be cost prohibitive for some people to purchase outright, but they can be rented for a very reasonable cost from most outdoor retail shops around the country. Activating a PLB in distress not only notifies authorities that you are in distress, but more importantly exactly where you are.
- If you are in a remote area, marking your location with brightly coloured objects, smoke signal (if there is no fire danger!) or a big H or arrow with logs or trampled grass will greatly improve the chances of being spotted by an aircraft.
- If you’re heading out on to the water, check the weather forecast and your life jackets.
- And if you’re at the beach, swim between the flags.