What is it like to get winched into a helicopter? A fat-headed BUZZ team member found out yesterday, 31 March. Today he is feeling like an April fool.
Roger Medcalf tells the story:
Trying to find bush trails for a Hash House Harriers run finishing at the Clearwater Bay Country & Golf Club, I started hiking from the club gates. Thirty years ago I had run with the Hash on the coastal trail from there round to what’s now the Tseung Kwan O industrial park. I set out to find it. Yes, it’s there, but a Government sign warns it is difficult and closed. I persisted, making the dumb mistakes the Fire Services warns hikers against: alone, one bottle of water and no food.
On the hillside above the industrial estate I took the wrong path, such as it is, battling through the undergrowth. The plan was to go over the saddle and down to the park. But the trail went up, up, up. Five years ago I had walked the proper trail over Tin Ha Shan and said to myself, I’ll keep climbing over the top to reach that trail. The map says the hill is just 273 metres, so by now you will have guessed age (72) was a factor. The bush track got steeper and steeper near the top and it’s hands and knees hanging onto the undergrowth. Out three hours now and a quarter bottle of water being conserved for later. I realised dehydration was setting in. I was running out of strength, so called 999.
They put me through to Fire Services. I told them I was in difficulty on the hill near the gate of the golf club. They didn’t seem to understand. I kept repeating the details. Communication was apparently going nowhere. I decided to slide down the hill hanging onto the bushes and try to reach the industrial estate roads. The mobile was ringing non-stop, but I needed both hands to cling onto the undergrowth. The mobile kept buzzing. I thought it was wrong to waste the emergency services time, so stopped to speak to them. I’m OK, working my way down the hill. I’ll get myself out of here, I told them.
Down, down, sliding down. Dehydration was really setting in. I’m weak and have lost the track. Now clambering over rocks and fighting through undergrowth. Vines encircle you and the more exhausted you are the harder to free yourself. It is not looking good as there is still a long way to go to the park.
Two yellow helmets appear high above me on the top of Tin Ha Shan. They yell and wave. I shout I’m OK and wave back.
In a few minutes two youngsters in blue uniforms come bounding down the hill to join me. They turn out to be Firemen Ivan and Stephen. Now I am sitting on a rock, bushed in more ways than one. Stephen gives me a small bottle of water.
Ivan and Stephen try to get me to climb to reach a better trail. I’m exhausted and for only the second time in my life a man’s hand is on my bum*. One of the young Firemen is trying to help me up over the rocks. My vision is blacking out. I tell them I’m fainting and sit on a rock with my head between my knees. Stephen calls his supervisor. A helicopter is coming in 15 minutes, he says. What is it like to get winched into a helicopter? A big black-grey thing clatters overhead blasting the three of us with downwash. A winchman descends on a wire a few yards away. He lets the wire go and comes to me with a set of kit. One thick padded sling goes around the chest, another sling around the thighs. I give my hiking stick to Ivan because it may get in the way. My hat is stuffed in my by-now semi-shredded shorts. The winchman connects the sling to the wire from the helicopter. I gird myself, saying in my head, they know what they are doing.
Suddenly you are wrenched into air. Not violently. Swiftly. You are swinging under the helicopter and in fierce downwash. The winchman rotates with you.
You wonder how you get from the sling into the helicopter, safely. Of course, they have got it all under control. The winch pulls you on a track into the machine. A mustachioed European crew chief and two crewmen help me out of the harness. I’m directed to strap myself into a seat. When I take my mobile out to snap photos two crewmen give me gestures. Not allowed. The helicopter is military-grade kit, a Eurocopter costing US$ millions. One solitary pilot is up front. You never see the GFS crewmen’s faces because of their aviator visors.
The flight to Fenwick Pier is quick. The GFS crew turn me over to white-shirted ambulancemen. After two bottles of water I have recovered and tell them so. They ask me to sign a service refusal form and let me leave the helicopter landing zone.
How do I feel today? Foolish, a bit guilty. Not because the Government spent money on me; I have been paying taxes here for 49 years. But because I may have diverted a helicopter from more important duties. But doubtlessly GFS prioritises, so I hope not.
Smack botty! Don’t do it again.
* The only other time I’ve felt a man’s hand on my bum was going into the men’s at Hang Hau MTR. You think you would punch someone who did that on the nose, but you just go into a state of shock and get out of there quick.