Hiking accident a reminder to prepare for the unexpected

The emergency gear being winched down to the rainforest gully as the chopper’s blades whirl overhead.

Amelia Nikles-Ralph

Nobody tells you that a helicopter creates a cyclone; that even 30 metres away, the growling wind means you have to cling to a swaying tree trunk as its leaves swirl viscously overhead. Nobody explains that the roar of the blades choke the surrounding rainforest into silence. And nobody tells you that a rescue expedition can take several hours from the time of injury to when the chopper is finally fading into the distance – especially when you have to search for a signal amongst dense rainforest.

It was a bright summer’s day in early December on the West Canungra Creek circuit in Queensland’s Lamington National Park. I was with my sisters and mum happily rock hopping and admiring the increased flow from waterfalls when we first noticed the low hum of a helicopter. Initially, it was like a bug – a minor annoying intrusion to our hike. But as it persisted, we began to ask questions. Where they searching for someone? What was taking them so long?

We eventually rounded a corner to reveal a clustered group of hikers, gesturing urgently for us to stay back. As we took in the stretcher on the ground beside the creek, the helicopter came into view. The door opened and a paramedic was winched down. The paramedic fastened the stretcher and himself back onto the cable and everything was hauled up. The process was efficient, and the whole exercise was mesmerising. Juxtaposing its long arrival, the helicopter left quickly, the deep whir fading away to silence.

The remaining members of the group told us the rescued woman was an experienced hiker. She’d slipped on a pointy rock crossing the creek and fallen, hitting her head on a sharp angle. Although she had quickly regained consciousness, walking the 15 or so kilometres out to the road was not a feasible option.

Despite being keen hikers, not one member of the group had packed a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), and as they were in a rainforest gully, the phone signal was not reliable. They had struggled to find reception for over 45 minutes. Then, as they didn’t have an exact location, the helicopter had taken hours to locate them, as we had curiously heard.

The injured hiker hadn’t walked in not expecting to walk out. If she was alone, the result could have been drastically different. If the injury had been worse, wasted time could have proved fatal. It’s a salient reminder to carry a PLB on any hike or outdoor adventure. There are so many variables that cannot be controlled, but often the outcome can with a bit of extra support.

It could make all the difference between an unexpected cyclone and perfect weather.

The injured hiker finally being helped into the chopper hours after the accident occurred.


Subscribe to the Great Australian Outdoors Magazine newsletter