De­scent into danger

‘Dope on a rope’ Dave Green­berg lays bare his ca­reer of heroic high-wire res­cues. By James Paul.

Sunday News - - NEWS -

DAVE Green­berg’s gut told him that day would be ‘‘crap’’ – but the res­cue chop­per crew­man couldn’t pre­dict just how An­zac Day 2010 would leave a vivid and per­ma­nent scar on his mem­ory.

La­belled West­pac res­cue he­li­copter’s ‘‘dope-on-a-rope’’, Green­berg spent 25 years oc­ca­sion­ally dan­gling by a winch to pluck peo­ple from dan­ger­ous seas and ravines, but of his nearly 4000 res­cue mis­sions, Sunday, April 25, 2010 stands out clearly.

As he cir­cled in on the rugged ter­rain near Pukerua Bay, about 40km north­east of Wellington, Green­berg was ‘‘sick­ened’’ at the sight of the wreck­age of an air force Iro­quois he­li­copter scat­tered across hun­dreds of me­tres of hill­side.

The RNZAF air­craft had been en route from Ohakea Air Base in the Ran­gi­tikei re­gion to An­zac Day ser­vices in Wellington when it crashed into a gully on the hills high above State High­way 1.

Al­ready dead from the crash were Flight Lieu­tenant Hay­den Mad­sen, 33, Fly­ing Of­fi­cer Dan Gre­gory, 28, and Cor­po­ral Ben Car­son, 25. A body lay near the de­bris.

Only thanks to the brav­ery of pi­lot Harry Steven­son and Green­berg was sole sur­vivor, Sergeant Stevin Creeg­gan, able to be winched to safety.

‘‘One thing I have learned to trust over the years is my gut feel­ing. And my gut told me that the morn­ing was quickly turn­ing to crap,’’ Green­berg says, adding that that morn­ing’s shift has left a ‘‘per­ma­nent scar on my soul’’.

The other thing that has en­dured the past seven years is the friend­ship Green­berg struck up with Creeg­gan, who has en­dured a long re­cov­ery from se­ri­ous head, chest, leg and spinal in­juries.

‘‘Stevin will al­ways be a mate as well as a re­minder of why I was so lucky to do the job I loved for 25 years,’’ Green­berg says.

And Creeg­gan, who has since moved to Cairns, Aus­tralia, where the warmer cli­mate helps him man­age his on­go­ing pain, pays trib­ute to the man who helped keep him sane dur­ing his fre­quent vis­its to Palmer­ston North Hos­pi­tal.

‘‘It’s a friend­ship that started over a wire. Be­tween my hu­mour and friends like Dave, it is lit­er­ally the only rea­son I’m around now. He’s a fan­tas­tic per­son who has a heart of gold, and very car­ing,’’ he says.

‘‘I have a lot of ad­mi­ra­tion for Dave and the team for what they did that An­zac Day. The pro­fes­sion­al­ism shown by the team was enor­mous, the fact they were able to carry out their jobs look­ing at what they saw, I owe my life to them.’’

Green­berg, who has writ­ten up his ex­ploits in a mem­oir called Emer­gency Re­sponse: Life, Death and He­li­copters, says he was spurred on to his fu­ture ca­reer grow­ing up in New York in the 1970s and watch­ing the Amer­i­can TV paramedic drama se­ries Emer­gency!

Ce­ment­ing that de­sire to be a hero was get­ting his ‘‘first kiss’’ at the age of 13, when he helped per­form CPR on a man who had col­lapsed in the street, un­til paramedics could ar­rive.

‘‘My first kiss was the kiss of life, and it was the best first kiss I could have ever wished for.’’

In the 12 months since Green­berg fi­nally left Life Flight, his tran­si­tion into a life with­out flight has been dif­fi­cult. Now he says that com­plet­ing his mem­oir and see­ing his res­cues through the eyes of those who were saved has been ther­a­peu­tic.

‘‘There were some bad things that I had to re­visit. It opened up a few boxes that I wish were still locked away at the back of the head,’’ he says.

‘‘So, yeah, there were a few tears along the way of just deal­ing with some things that I should have dealt with be­fore. But it was also nice re­mem­ber­ing the peo­ple who were most spe­cial in my life, and the re­ally neat things we got to do to­gether.’’

Dave Green­berg says he was never hap­pier dur­ing his ca­reer than when he was dan­gling from a winch dur­ing a res­cue. His most mem­o­rable res­cue was at the An­zac Day crash in 2010 and he be­came close friends with sur­vivor Stevin Creeg­gan, be­low, dur­ing the air­man’s long re­cov­ery.

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