Crash pilot taped scalp on
August 29, 2007 - 11:11AM
I was concerned for myself. I was losing a lot of blood, I was pretty shattered. I thought there was a fairly good possibility I could die
A young pilot who crashed in a New Zealand mountain range taped a chunk of his scalp back on and trekked for two hours to raise help for his injured student.
Flight instructor Richard Bateman, 27, is expected to be released from hospital after crashing in the Gammock Range in a Robin R2120 on Sunday afternoon.
Student pilot Nick Eagleson, 33, was knocked out in the crash but Bateman managed to crawl out of the wreckage with a badly gashed scalp and free his companion.
He used his survival kit to dress his wound before walking eight kilometres down a steep valley to get help.
Bateman was taking Eagleson through some mountain-flying tuition when the plane crashed. They were part of a group of 35 club members on a week-long New Zealand tour.
"We were both strapped in, Nick was unconscious," said Mr Bateman from his hospital bed. "I was feeling bad, I knew I had some injuries. I was bleeding from my head and my wrist was out of shape."
The first challenge was to get out of the cockpit. The canopy would not release. Part of it was smashed. He suspects his head had gone through it as his headset was smashed.
He managed to rip the canopy off.
"I got out and then shut everything off," he said, pulling out the plane keys he found in his pocket when he was admitted to hospital.
"I was pretty dazed."
Bateman realised he had a serious head injury. There was a lot of blood. A large chunk of his scalp was loose.
Behind his seat was his personal survival kit, a webbing belt containing first-aid gear, a compass, firelighters, personal locator beacon and a water bottle. It was gear he always took hunting and when he was mountain flying.
When he had changed aircraft that morning he opted to take the survival kit and a warm jacket with him.
"There was some good tape in it," he said, demonstrating how he had wrapped the tape right over his head and back under his chin to hold his scalp in place and stem the bleeding.
"I think I put a baseball cap on, too."
His next concern was for Eagleson. He was unconscious and lying in an unnatural position. His legs were trapped in the crushed fuselage.
As he attempted to free him, Eagleson came to.
Bateman managed to get him out of the plane, lying him down by the wing. It was obvious Eagleson had some internal injuries but he was not bleeding.
Bateman triggered his own locator beacon as he was uncertain whether the plane's beacon was functioning.
"I tried to figure out the best course of action. There was nothing I could do for Nick."
He was concerned the signals from the beacons might bounce around the mountains, making it difficult for would-be rescuers to find the wreck. He knew he had to get help, even though you are meant to stay with a crashed aeroplane.
Bateman headed off down the valley.
"I just hoped I would run into someone fishing, a hunter, the farmer.
"I was concerned for myself. I was losing a lot of blood, I was pretty shattered. I thought there was a fairly good possibility I could die."
About two hours after the crash, and eight kilometres away from it, he found a musterers' hut. As he got to the hut he heard a plane. He lit a fire in an attempt to attract it. That didn't work.
Realising he could be facing a night out, and becoming increasingly weak, Bateman was about to break into the hut when he heard a helicopter. He grabbed some dry grass and lit another fire. Success. The helicopter landed.
"The guy asked if I had anything to do with the plane crash. I said 'yes', jumped in, and we went to the site."
Those on the helicopter scrambled up to the crash site to check on Eagleson. The rescue was under way.
Only 48 hours after the crash, Bateman was eating a pie and donuts and considering when he would be able to fly again.
What he does know is the next time he goes through a mountain-flying briefing with a student, it shouldn't be too hard to convince them to carry survival gear.
He was expected to be discharged from Timaru Hospital today.
The Civil Aviation Authority is investigating the cause of the crash.