It was meant to be an enjoyable afternoon walk to the top of one of Mackay’s most famous landmarks on September 2 last year.
But after ascending the rough, dirt track with three walking companions and admiring the extraordinary view at the top of The Leap, about 20km north-west of Mackay, things took a turn for the worse for schoolteacher Helen Taylor.
“The terrain was rougher than we expected, a real goat track and more challenging than we had thought” she said.
“It was a 40-minute walk to the top. The view was amazing but it was pretty hard going, we were using trees and bushes to help pull ourselves up the steepest sections.”
“I was about 50 metres from the top and starting to descent back down when I slipped on a steep dry section of the soil path. I slid down a few metres and my right foot smashed into a huge boulder. I actually heard it snap.”
With her ankle obviously broken, Helen and her three companions were now stranded at the top of the mountain with the sun setting fast and no possible way of getting down before dark.
“My ankle had twisted on an awkward angle and I knew immediately I wasn’t walking or being carried out of there,” she said.
“My only possible way out was up.”
Fortunately, her walking companions had mobile phones and were able to call ‘000’ for help. After being assured rescuers were on the way, two of her companions began the descent while friend Dean Malone waited with Helen for help to arrive.
Remarkably, the Eimeo Road State School teacher librarian remained calm and wasn’t suffering with severe pain from what was a very serious injury.
RACQ CQ Rescue was tasked about 5.50pm with information that the two walkers were in need of assistance at the landmark, a mountain dominated by a rocky precipice and several hundred metres high.
After making phone contact with Dean, who downloaded a GPS app, the Mackay-based rescue helicopter crew were able to clarify the pair’s exact location on the walking track and fly directly to the scene. Once overhead, they located the pair quickly.
“Given the very rocky and steep terrain, and that the hikers were at the top of the mountain with nightfall fast approaching, ground recovery was not feasible”, RACQ CQ Rescue aircrewman Quinton Rethus said. The helicopter crew decided winching the walkers off the mountain was the safest option.
As the helicopter hovered overhead with a doctor and Critical Care Paramedic on board, rescue crew officer (RCO) Arno Schoonwinkel was winched down to a rocky clearing on the cliff face, very close to Helen’s location.
“I remember clearly approaching the two hikers who were sitting on the track and asking how they were. Dean quickly replied ‘we’re a lot better now that you guys are here’,” Arno recalled.
The two men carried Helen about 50 metres uphill from the site of her fall to the winch location at the cliff face. It was then the enormity of her predicament actually hit her. “Or maybe it was just looking over the edge of that cliff,” Helen said.
She was secured into an ARV (Air Rescue Vest) and winched up into the helicopter as the sun quickly disappeared below the horizon.
With little water and no light, Dean faced a high risk of injury if he hiked back down the track alone, so rescue crewman Arno was again lowered down to the mountain to secure him into a harness and also winch him up into the helicopter.
Both hikers were taken Mackay Base Hospital in a stable condition arriving at 7pm.
Six months later, Helen has endured three surgeries and the insertion of two plates and screws in her ankle. Her physio and rehabilitation is ongoing but she is adamant it won’t stop her forthcoming trip to Greece and Turkey.
Helen is incredibly grateful to the crew who assisted her that day and that the rescue helicopter was available to help,
“RACQ CQ Rescue is vital to the health and safety of anyone who lives or visits here,” she said.
“I never dreamed that I would need their help but when I knew the chopper was on its way, I felt calm and safe. I am in awe of the incredible team on these flights, who help people like me come through such traumatic, life-changing events.
“It certainly surprises people to learn that RACQ CQ Rescue, which is so vital to the wellbeing of Queenslanders, relies for the most part on fundraising. The costs of rescues like mine are significant and they need our support to continue to be there for all of us,” Helen said.
“They are there for us when we need them most, and we need to be there for them.”