WHENEVER Meander Valley councillor Pat Frost sees helicopter rescue company managing director Roger Corbin she gives him a big, strong hug.
“It’s just so lovely to see him, it was lovely to see him,” Cr Frost says. “If it wasn’t for Roger, I would not be here.
“I had about half an hour left in me – if he hadn’t come back, I’d be dead.”
Caveside man Kelvin Howe agrees, taking the measure of the lean chopper pilot nearly twice as tall as the two of them standing close by. “Yeah, he saved us,” he said.
Mr Howe’s wife Margaret was supposed to be the star of this particular show.
It is 10 years since Cr Frost, Mr Howe, his neighbour Dave Fleming and pilot David Sewell were in a helicopter that crashed into the Great Western Tiers near Lake Mackenzie.
Mrs Howe had finally finished the story of the rescue, the amazing survival of all four in the chopper on that cold May day and night and their slow, agonising recovery.
The book, based on daily journals Mrs Howe wrote from the time of the crash, was supposed to be something for the Howe’s grandchildren to read. But it grew.
This week’s launch of Miracle on the Mountain is the 231-page story of the rescue and recovery of the four but it is also about her husband and his life-long love affair with the mountain where he came so close to death.
The book launch was organised to celebrate the culmination of a huge project for Mrs Howe who admits to enjoying composition – the forerunner of essay writing – at school but had written nothing of volume since.
Instead Mrs Howe took the opportunity at the Launceston launch, at Legacy House, to turn the spotlight on the people who rescued her husband and his friends.
At least half a dozen of the more than 20 that took part in the ground and air rescue were at the launch as well as a number of the nurses from the Launceston General Hospital’s Ward 5B where Mr Howe was patched up.
Unusually for seasoned emergency and rescue workers, many in the group have kept in close touch with the four that they fought to keep alive when temperatures plummeted to minus eight on the mountain.
But they hadn’t been publicly acknowledged en masse before.
Cr Frost keeps hugging Rotor Lift Aviation managing director Mr Corbin because he refuelled his Hobart-based chopper at Launceston and flew back up the mountain at 2am in atrocious conditions instead of at first light the next morning.
Cr Frost knows that she would have been dead by then.
The ground search party had found four critically injured survivors when it expected that the pilot would be the only chopper occupant.
“When we went back, we couldn’t land,” Mr Corbin told the crowd at the launch. “The conditions were too bad.”
“So they hovered above Dave and myself while we were pulled out – we went out first otherwise we would have gone out in body bags,” Cr Frost said.
All four were by this time suffering from hypothermia and Mr Kelly and Cr Frost had back injuries which kept them as patients at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital for months afterward.
Cr Frost, like the other three, had been thrown from the chopper as it crashed. She had landed with her feet in a small, icy stream and was too frightened to drag herself completely clear of the water because of her back injuries.
With Mr Corbin in the chopper were co-pilot Paul Newland, who now pilots helicopters in Western Australia, and Tim McNamara, who crews with Australian Helicopters based in Adelaide.
The first time Mr Corbin tried to fly in to rescue the injured cloud was so low and the night so dark that he could not see a thing. The ground rescue party lit fires to guide him in.
He left paramedic Mike McCall behind to help as he flew Cr Frost and Mr Kelly out and flares were let off to light his way back to pull out Mr Howe and Mr Sewell.
Also at this week’s launch was SES officer Martin Boyle, intensive care paramedic Graeme Jones, police helicopter crewman Damian Bidgood and SES regional chief Gerald Van Rongen.
Mr Van Rongen and Mr Boyle were the first two of the on-ground rescue team to reach the survivors after walking through the night over unfamiliar terrain up the mountain.
“We didn’t know until we got there that there were four people not just one,” Mr Van Rongen said. “They found us – Kelvin heard us coming and called out to us, that’s how we located them.”
Mr Howe didn’t mind sharing centre stage with his wife and the emergency crew this week.
“I cherish any moment I can get back,” he said. “And these are such great fellows. People know that there are people who do what they do but when you see behind the scenes you realise what wonderful people they are.”
Copies of Miracle on the Mountain can be obtained by emailing Margaret Howe at [email protected]南京夜网.au.
Helicopter crash survivor Kelvin Howe and his wife Margaret, seated, with fellow survivor Pat Frost, centre, and back, from left, ground and air rescue team members Martin Boyle, Graeme Jones, Damian Bidgood, Gerald Van Rongen, Roger Corbin and Lindsay Godfrey. Picture: PHILLIP BIGGS
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