The Cessnock District and Central Coast VRA Rescue Squads were both activated to a single vehicle accident on George Downs Drive near Bucketty at 9.20 am on New Year’s Day. A 000 call stating that a vehicle had overturned with three persons trapped prompted a large response of emergency personnel.

George Downs Drive is a very windy road with rugged bushland and steep embankments lining the roadway. The location given for the accident is very remote; approximately 50 kilometres from both Cessnock and Wyong resulting in activation of both rescue units. Police and Ambulance units were responded from Cessnock and the Central Coast with the closest Rural Fire Service unit and the Newcastle Westpac Rescue Helicopter also tasked to the incident.

Both rescue units arrived at the scene within minutes of each other, with Police, Ambulance and RFS personnel already at the location. A south bound vehicle had lost control on a bend, left the road and rolled down an  embankment coming to rest on its roof approximately three metres down from road level. The driver’s side of the vehicle had collided with a tree, preventing it from continuing down the steep and rugged embankment. However whilst rolling down the embankment two tree branches penetrated the vehicle, one initially trapping the male driver by the legs with the second trapping a child in the rear seat.

The branch that had penetrated the drivers compartment had pinned the male driver by his pants, however whilst waiting for emergency personnel to arrive he managed to free himself. The man had wriggled out of his jeans, leaving them suspended from the floor of the upside down vehicle, a very odd sight indeed. The man was still in the vehicle comforting the child who remained trapped in the rear seat by the second tree branch that had penetrated the vehicle.

It was immediately evident that the rescue operation would be very complex due to the precarious position of the vehicle and the way the child was trapped. The rugged terrain, the heavy rescue equipment and the complex nature of the rescue all combined to make for a difficult extrication.

A wire cable was attached to the vehicle and tensioned with a Tirfor winch to prevent the vehicle from rolling any further down the embankment. The vehicle was further stabilised with step blocks and dunnage while a plan of attack was being discussed. Due to the steep slope and unstable ground conditions several 12mm lashings were set up as safety lines to assist with access of both personnel and equipment.

A Paramedic had established a repour with the child whose name was Sam, he was supporting Sam’s head and doing a fantastic job of reassuring the understandably distressed child. Plastic shielding was placed around the child and using hydraulic cutters the rear hatch was removed to allow better access to further assess Sam and the nature of his entrapment. With Paramedics now able to access and treat Sam, Rescue personnel attempted to remove a section of the rear seat. It was soon apparent however that this was not the best course of action and that “plan b” would be required. The branch trapping Sam had to be removed; this was much easier said than done however.

The branch had embedded into the floor of the vehicle and therefore apart from trapping Sam was supporting some of the vehicles weight, simply cutting it may cause the vehicle to shift. Two adjustable props were placed at the rear of the vehicle to take the vehicles weight and prevent the possibility of the vehicle shifting. The confined spaces and steep terrain made it difficult to physically cut the branch and the proximity to the child ruled out the use of any loud equipment such as a chainsaw. Upon consideration of all these factors it was decided that a battery powered reciprocating saw was the most appropriate tool.

The branch was cut outside of the vehicle firstly and with all the vehicles weight now being supported by the stabilisation equipment the vehicle did not move at all. The cutting of the branch inside the vehicle was also a difficult procedure due to Sam’s torso being pinned by the branch and the cramped work area.

With Paramedics supporting Sam’s weight the section of branch was removed and after around one hour of delicate rescue work Sam was now ready to be removed from the upside down vehicle.

Upon feeling the sensation of being released Sam gleefully shouted “Yeah I’m free” which of course brought a smile to everyone’s face. It was explained to Sam that we were going to lift him out onto a spine board, to which he replied “I’ve never been on a spine board before”, with all the heart-warming innocence that only a young child can possess.

Upon being lifted up to the road level Sam was further assessed by Paramedics and along with the driver miraculously appeared to have suffered only minor injuries. Both were flown to the John Hunter Hospital by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter for further precautionary assessment.

George Downs Drive was closed to all traffic either side of the scene for approximately three hours throughout the rescue operation and to allow for the vehicle recovery and Police to investigate the cause of the accident.

This incident highlights the professionalism of the VRA with two neighbouring squads working together as a team to complete a very complex rescue operation.