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Gone pear-shaped – On the SPOT

This entry is part 3 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #20

Ray Lindner found a huge heart can beat in the population of even the smallest town.

Along with a few friends I recently finished a ride in Margaret River, Western Australia.

In the lead up to the event we planned our route back to Melbourne to allow some adventure riding after the mind-numbing, black-top grind across the Nullarbor. That saw partners Leigh and Megan on a pair of F800GS BMWs, Phil on a 650 V-Strom and myself on a Triumph Tiger XC head northeast from Kalgoorlie to Laverton. From there we planned to ride The Great Central Road through to Yulara.

We knew this to be a challenge in the making, but reckoned we’d researched well, and we had the right gear and knowledge to get the job done. All of us had a reasonable amount of experience on dirt roads.

Alas! This was not to be. About 35km into the dirt Leigh had a serious off in a heavy sand drift and upended his BMW.

Not a lot of people and services available where this adventure unfolded.

Drive by

When Megan and Phil found Leigh he was trapped under the heavily laden bike. It took the two of them to right the 800 and to start some assessment of the general situation.

In the meantime I was up front unaware of what had happened. I’d realised I didn’t have any followers, but was expecting them to come into view at any moment.

A 4WD came along and, when asked, advised there were three bikes back along the road and it looked like one rider had fallen. I’d really enjoy meeting that guy again. I’d like to give him a lesson in common decency. When someone is, or even appears to be, in trouble, you stop to ask if you can assist. This guy didn’t.

He drove straight past.

I rode back, by which time Leigh was propped up on the roadway embankment looking a lot worse for wear. He was conscious and breathing okay, but obviously in a fair amount of pain.

This volunteer crew were obviously very experienced and one could only be impressed by the thorough assessment of Leigh and the care taken in moving him.

Hats off

Having just recently completed a First Aid For Motorcyclists course I knew if a patient was breathing normally you don’t remove the helmet as this can cause further injuries. Leave the helmet for the emergency responders. The patient will always want to remove their own helmet, and often it’s done before anyone can intervene. That was case here.

Leigh’s helmet had been somewhat remodelled with a very significant dent in the rear of the shell, obviously after impact with the front-brake fluid reservoir which had been snapped off the bike. What had occurred in the dynamics of the accident to make that happen I can only guess, but it’s not something I’d like to find out first hand.

Realising Leigh was never getting out of his current location without significant help I set off the SOS from my SPOT tracker.

I was over-awed at just how efficiently this system worked.

My wife and son each got phone calls from the USA to say the SOS signal had been received and these calls were quickly followed by calls from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra which had been alerted by the monitoring company in the USA that assistance was required.

Follow-up calls continued from Canberra advising what was being done in order to respond to the emergency.

By now both USA and Canberra had our coordinates on this remote road and had set about locating the nearest emergency responders.

What followed was extraordinary to say the least.

Good move

The first car to come along was driven by a Taiwanese tourist. His wife just happened to have nursing experience and set about making Leigh more comfortable while assessing his injuries. It was most likely he had broken a collarbone and maybe done some rib damage. We were all concerned about the knock on the head as he kept asking the same questions: “Where are we? What road are we on?”

Then a 4WD utility approached, driven by a young mine worker who had a satellite phone which I used to call 000. During that call the 000 centre was receiving advice regarding our coordinates thanks to my SPOT messaging. I was able to then tell more about Leigh’s injuries and feel reassured the emergency-response system was well and truly working.

We had a St. John’s ambulance operated by volunteers on site in what seemed like no more than 45 minutes after the fall. This volunteer crew were obviously very experienced and one could only be impressed by the thorough assessment of Leigh and the care taken in moving him. From there he was taken to the small hospital in Laverton.

Neck check

Local police also arrived on site and we found them to be great.

They made the comment that they wished more people had devices like the SPOT as they often have to search for people in this remote part of our great country. In our case they had exact coordinates.

While the ambulance crew was treating Leigh on the roadside another 4WD utility pulled up. I asked if there was any way he knew of to get the damaged bike back to town. “Leave that with me,” he said, and by some miraculous means a tilt tray on a large 4WD truck pulled up. The driver, Andy, had been contacted via Sat phone by the ute driver. He collected the bike as he was passing and delivered it back to town that night.

Andy turned out to be an interesting guy. He’d ridden three Finke desert races and driven overland buses from London to Kathmandu no less than 10 times, not to mention various routes in Africa.

All the camping gear, luggage and panniers from Leigh’s bike were loaded into the police vehicle and taken back to town.

After a quick trip to the hospital to check on Leigh we were informed he’d have to be airlifted to Perth for further assessment and to check for neck and spinal damage. It was apparent we’d need to get Megan to Perth to be by his side as quickly as possible.

A St Johns ambulance, operated by volunteers, was on site in about 45 minutes.

Mates’ rates

Back at the hotel we informed Denise, the publican, of our misfortune, and quickly learned just how generous this small town of 400 or so people could be.

“Your rooms are free tonight if you need to stay on,” she offered and, “What else can we do for you?” Back to the police station we went – driven by ‘Johnno’ from the pub – to collect Leigh’s gear and to ask who might be able to assist in getting Leigh and Megan’s bikes back to civilisation. It was suggested we talk with a local contractor who was ‘a great guy’ What an understatement!

This guy and his friends were just amazing from the time we met them.

As I explained the situation I was introduced to the local shire engineer who just happened to be visiting. The council worker we met on the road and Andy, driver of tilt tray, reported to the shire engineer and he was keen to assist us as best he could.

Leigh was flown out by Royal Flying Doctor Service to Perth, and as Megan couldn’t accompany him, Rex, the local contractor, had a mate who was travelling back to Kalgoorlie that night and was happy to offer a lift. All of Leigh and Megan’s luggage was packed onto a pallet and wrapped in shrinkwrap, then placed on the ute going to Kalgoorlie. Megan’s bike went on a trailer behind the vehicle.

From Kalgoorlie Megan flew to Perth next morning to be with Leigh.

A phone call to a lady who once lived in Kalgoorlie and who was a member of my home motorcycle club in Williamstown,Victoria, resulted in a free motel room for Megan and a ride to the airport next morning.

What had all this cost the group to this point? As close to zippo as you want to get!

But then the pallet of goods, plus Leigh and Megan’s bikes, had to get back to Melbourne. The guys who had assisted thus far set about calling everyone they knew in the transport industry who might be able to get this to Melbourne at ‘mates’ rates’.

The luggage was packed onto a pallet and wrapped in shrinkwrap, then placed on the ute going to Kalgoorlie.

Be prepared

Long after we were all back in Melbourne the people we met after the accident have continued to assist in ways that amaze us

A frame was built to carry the two bikes, and the bikes and pallet of goods were delivered to Perth free of charge from where they were transported back to Melbourne, all for less than a quoted price to transport one bike.

If ever you’re heading into remote country consider the use of a device such as a SPOT or PLB. Like me, it may not be yourself who needs help, and if you can assist someone else you’ll feel great about your decision to carry this equipment.

Make sure your ambulance cover is paid up. Leigh’s flight on RFDS was fully covered by his Victorian ambulance subscription as against something north of $30,000 if he didn’t have such cover.

If such unfortunate circumstances occur I can only hope you’re near a great little country town like Laverton, WA, and get the good luck and support we received.

Leigh is recuperating well and will be happy once the neck brace comes off. We’re planning to revisit Laverton in the not too distant future.

Ray Lindner scores a PLB

Ray’s story had a good ending, and to celebrate, the folks at KTI, Australia’s leading producer of quality PLBs, are sending Ray a PLB to include in his riding kit. In this case there was time for signals to bounce back and forth from the US, but if it’s an emer-gency situation where min-utes count, a PLB can mean the difference, and KTI wants to see Adventure Rider Magazine’s readers properly equipped.

Do you have a good rescue story?

If so, send it to KTI is so keen to see riders carrying emergency beacons they’re going to give a free PLB to a rescue story we publish in each of the next few issues. It doesn’t have to be a story using a PLB, but it needs to be verifiable, and it needs usable pics.

If you’ve been in trouble once, you should know how important a PLB can be. Share your story and make sure you’re prepared if it ever happens again.

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