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