How a helicopter paramedic rescued a fisherman on his first day on the job

Success: Critical care paramedic Matt Gane had a dramatic water rescue on his first day working with the Wollongong ambulance helicopter crew. Picture: Anna Warr
Success: Critical care paramedic Matt Gane had a dramatic water rescue on his first day working with the Wollongong ambulance helicopter crew. Picture: Anna Warr

Newly-trained aviation rescue paramedic Matt Gane had not even signed on for his first shift at the Albion Park Rail helicopter base near Wollongong, NSW, before he was called to an emergency water rescue job.

The critical care paramedic of almost 25 years is more familiar with road rescues than being in a helicopter but he took the job to save three fisherman stranded at sea in his stride on Wednesday morning.

The highly-skilled, yet uncommon, water rescue saw Mr Gane winched 100 foot down from the helicopter before he brought one of the fishermen back up to safety.

Mr Gane said he was unpacking his carload of equipment when the Triple 0 call came about 7.40am.

"The job came in as a sinking 22-metre fishing trawler 15 nautical miles offshore," he said.

Three commercial tuna fishermen, aged 25, 40 and 45, reported they needed to abandon ship as it was going under after hearing a noise from the engine room.

There are several logistical challenges the helicopter crew had to prepare for while Mr Gane grabbed the correct equipment and got dressed in his wetsuit, fins and mask while the pilot entered the flight plans.

"The discussions and preparation all happen at once at the base," he said. "The team had a quick briefing to make sure we had covered the safety checklist."

The crew of four did stop to make sure Mr Gane was prepared, given it was his first day, before getting into the aircraft and flying out to the life raft, which the fishermen had jumped into before their boat sank.

"We prepared the aircraft for a winch and once we got out there, a helicopter, which had been tasked from Sydney, had also arrived on scene," he said.

"We came up with a plan. If someone was injured then the Sydney crew would go down and if no one was injured they would take two people from the raft and we would take the third, which is what happened.

"The three men were wearing life jackets and were in the life raft. They had saved themselves to a large degree.

"I went down the wire and I was dropped into the water before I swam to the life raft. The captain had seen his crew members get rescued so he knew what to do.

"He got into the water and I put the rescue device under his arms and did the safety checks before we were pulled back into the aircraft."

The three rescued men were cold but otherwise uninjured. Picture: Adam McLean

The three rescued men were cold but otherwise uninjured. Picture: Adam McLean

Mr Gane said the fisherman was not panicked but did want to get out of the cold water.

"There was yelling and hand signals because it was noisy with the helicopter," he said.

"Once in the helicopter, we made sure he had no injuries. He was very cold so we wrapped him up in space blankets and five minutes later we were back on the ground."

Mr Gane said the fisherman was shocked with what had happened but had introduced himself and was grateful to the crew despite being cold and uncomfortable.

The paramedic attributed the success of his first job to the extensive training he had recently completed as well as the trust he had with his crew members.

Critical care paramedic of 25 years Matt Gane is excited to start in his role working on a helicopter. Picture: Anna Warr

Critical care paramedic of 25 years Matt Gane is excited to start in his role working on a helicopter. Picture: Anna Warr

Mr Gane said NSW Ambulance had a fantastic facility in Bankstown where paramedics could perform simulated rescues before moving onto mock rescues in Sydney Harbour and rescues from boats.

"At the facility, there is an aircraft over a very deep pool and it can simulate wind, waves, noise, flashing lights and more," he said. "We were winched up and down up to six hours a day for a week of our water rescue training.

"We get the muscle memory and an instructor gives us feedback.

"Then we progressed into live flights over Sydney Harbour or the Northern Beaches where we get down into the water and rescue someone. We practised pulling them out of water at various heights.

"The final training is boat rescues, which is one of the riskiest rescues there are hazard such as masts, rigging, a moving boat and helicopter that we had to avoid when being winched down."

The life raft the three fisherman jumped into as their boat sank. Picture: NSW Police

The life raft the three fisherman jumped into as their boat sank. Picture: NSW Police

Mr Gane said he wanted to be part of the aviation crew in Wollongong for a long time.

He said despite the commute from the Northern Beaches and having two young children, he wanted expand his skill set and work with a small tight-knit crew.

"The work environment and that every job is different, whether by road or helicopter, is assigned to the four people on shift, which is what I wanted," Mr Gane said.

"I weighed it up and thought I would do it because I am still young and fit enough."

Helicopter pilot Jeff Yew congratulated Mr Gane on a great first job.

"He handled it well," he said. "We are looking forward to having him as part of the crew. We are like a family and he has fit in well."

This story How a helicopter paramedic rescued a fisherman on his first day on the job first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.