Tuesday, 19 January 2021


Tairua man’s catch up with his rescue helicopter heroes

By Pamela Ferla

Tairua man Rick McLean is lucky to be alive and in the beautiful sunshine of last Thursday, he said heartfelt thanks to some of the people whose incredible teamwork helped him survive a life-threatening accident last summer.

Rick caught up with his heroes from the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters at the scene of his accident on the Tairua Golf Course. For the two helicopters crews, it was a rare chance to reunite with a patient. Rick is the men’s captain of the Tairua Golf Club.

Rick was on the club’s ride-on mower on Friday 23 February when it tipped over a bank on the 13th tee, trapping him underneath the one-and-a-half tonne vehicle. He suffered internal injuries with suspected bleeding. Other injuries included a compound fracture of the lower leg, with bone exposed. He also suffered two broken bones in his foot plus multiple fractured ribs and a broken collar bone and shoulder blade.

“The 13th tee is elevated and as I turned the mower, the wheels slipped off the edge, pulling me backwards,” says Rick. “The motor cut out and them everything went black and I thought I might be in a nightmare.”

Intensive care paramedic, Marcel Driessen, was on the Whitianga based helicopter, Westpac 1, that day, along with pilot James Tayler and crewman/co-pilot Vasya Makhinko.

They landed on the golf course and after assessment called on Westpac 2 (based at Mechanics Bay in Auckland), which operates with a Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) on board. This service, which is unique to Auckland, enables blood transfusions to be done on site when required. On board Westpac 2 were doctor Gareth Richards (a HEMS doctor), intensive care paramedic Russell Clarke, crewman Mark Cannell and pilot Paul Robinson.

As the helicopter crews related their parts in the mission, it became clear that smart and timely decisions were critical in saving Rick’s life.

Marcel said he was concerned about internal bleeding and so, in an unusual move, requested the second helicopter with a HEMS doctor on board and upgraded the patient from Status 2 to 1.

Gareth pointed out that making this decision early in the situation was good.

Russell said everyone knew what they were doing and there was great teamwork in what is known as the “chain of survival.”

Westpac 2 flew Rick to Waikato Hospital, where he spent two-and-a-half weeks in the intensive care unit before transferring to Thames Hospital for another couple of weeks.

A string of other people involved on the day also played an important part in bringing a positive outcome to the drama. First on the scene were golfers who noticed the mower had suddenly stopped and investigated. Initially Rick could not be seen under the mower until someone noticed a foot sticking out and raised the alarm.

Tairua fire brigade members Mark Cory-Wright and Riki Tawa happened to be playing golf at the time and were able to assist. The local ambulance also attended the scene. Rick McLean has high praise for the people in Tairua’s emergency services and considers the town very lucky to have them.

Rick’s wife, Michelle, arrived at the scene after assistance from friends because she was struggling with a broken foot and had to use a scooter. “It was a major just getting me to the golf course,” she says. ”I thought Rick had just cut a toe or something. I do remember hearing a helicopter as we were on our way and being worried, but then someone said not to worry as it’s not landing at the rugby grounds so it must not be for Tairua.”

Michelle was impressed with the way she was looked after by the crews of the rescue helicopters and how she was being kept informed. She was also heartened by the response of the Tairua community. “The local people were amazing, offering me food and transport,” she says. “All the support we had just blew me away.”

Rick says he would do anything for the rescue helicopter crews. “I’d do anything for these guys,” he says. “They kept me alive. We must support them as we never know when we might need them. I have realised how wonderful people can be.” In the midst of his recovery, he had his 65th birthday and donated his first pension payment to the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters.

Rick has recently sat on a lawnmower again at the Tairua Golf Course, but admits he now avoids mowing on hills.

Rick and Michelle moved to Tairua nearly four years ago after they have both worked in banking in Auckland. Marcel Driessen started ambulance work as a volunteer in Tairua in the 1980s and has fond memories of the area. He says his nickname was the “Tairua Terror.”

Tairua Golf and Country Club president, Yvonne Walmsley, said WorkSafe New Zealand inspected the Tairua Golf Course following Rick’s accident and was satisfied with the outcome.


Latest business rest of site

Sovereign Pier on the Waterways

Luxury five star resort delivering great holiday experiences second to none with guaranteed water views, spacious modern suites, (1,2 or 3 bedrooms) includes FREE Wi-Fi, cosy fires, spa pool,…


Should there a total ban on backyard fireworks on the Coromandel?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.