Australia The battle to rescue pilot from Antarctic crevasse

13:52  06 october  2017
13:52  06 october  2017 Source:   9News.com.au

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The man who pulled a helicopter pilot from an icy crevasse in Antarctica has told a coronial inquest how hard it had been to rescue him. The 62-year-old had been on a routine fuel mission on the Western Ice Shelf with the Australian Antarctic Division with his co- pilot , Paul Sutton.

Kiwi James Hamilton told Aust inquest about bid to rescue pilot from Antarctic crevasse . Wood was wedged in the ice and screamed when rescuers tried to pull him upwards. Hamilton told the court that he had two options at that moment: lift Wood out by the arms or wait for him to die.

The man who pulled a helicopter pilot from an icy crevasse in Antarctica has told a coronial inquest how hard it had been to rescue him.

Captain David Wood was wedged in 20 metres under the ice and was wearing only a jumper when the tragedy happened on January 11 last year.

The 62-year-old had been on a routine fuel mission on the Western Ice Shelf with the Australian Antarctic Division with his co-pilot, Paul Sutton.

He earlier told the coronial inquest the two men had been returning to their helicopters after retrieving ropes when he lost sight of Mr Wood, the ABC reports.

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The inquest into his death opened in Canberra last month to examine, among other items, whether the rescue team was properly equipped and quick enough in its response to the accident.

Mr Sutton recalled how he had seen the opening in the snow as he walked back towards the chopper.

“I yelled out to him… I couldn’t hear a thing,” he told the inquest.

Mr Sutton flew back to the station to pick up a rescue team, saying, “I just thought, get help”.

Captain Wood was eventually rescued hours later but died of hypothermia at Australia’s Davis Base the following day.

The inquest heard Mr Wood was left in the crevasse for about four hours before a rescue team, consisting of three specialist search and officers, arrived.

James Hamilton today told the inquest he volunteered to enter the crevasse on account of being the “skinniest member” of the rescue team, the ABC reports.

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The wife of a helicopter pilot who died in Antarctica last year after being left for hours in a crevasse praises her husband's bravery but criticises the inefficiency of the system responsible for his rescue .

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"It was very smooth and it was very uniform... seven metres down, it had a bend and then it just tapered like a big wedge," he said.

"At the bend I could see the top of his helmet."

Mr Hamilton told the court he then spoke to the pilot, who said “I’m cold … get me out”.

“He was coming in and out of consciousness and he was repeating himself,” he said.

After managing to tie a sling around the arms of the pilot, who was wedged in the ice, Mr Hamilton said he faced a “grim choice”.

"Were your realistic options to lift him (out) by his arms or wait there while he died?" Counsel Assist James Stewart asked, to which Mr Hamilton replied, “yes”.

The inquest heard Mr Wood’s rescue from a depth of around 20 metres was successful on a second attempt, leaving Mr Wood lying on the ice “in a foetal position”.

"It basically indicated to me that he had relaxed and that possibly he was going down and he was possibly on death's door," he said.

Mr Hamilton rejected claims Mr Wood’s co-pilot would have been able to lift him out with the helicopter, citing “too much force” would have posed a real danger to both pilots.

Mr Wood later died of hypothermia at Australia’s Davis Base.

Mr Wood’s wife earlier told the court of her frustration over the “inefficiency of the system” responsible for her husband’s rescue, all the while praising his bravery, according to the ABC.

"He knew he was in good shape for a timely rescue," she said.

"He was the bravest, most physically tough person I have ever known and when he fell in that crevasse, he became braver still.”

The inquest is also considering whether appropriate safety precautions were in place and the absence of a doctor with the rescue team.

The inquest continues.

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