Hunter ‘should have died 3 or 4 times’

The Southland Times - - National News - Marty Sharpe

The first thing Joe Prusac is go­ing to do once he gets his neck brace off is ar­range a trip back to the re­mote site at which he nearly lost his life.

Prusac, who lives in Mel­bourne, was about three hours into a hunt­ing trip last month when it turned into a re­mark­able fight for sur­vival.

He was with mates Mark Sorensen and Si­mon Day. They had been flown into the Kaweka Range for what should have been a four day hunt­ing trip on Septem­ber 6.

Af­ter land­ing near the Ngaawa­pu­rua Hut near the head­wa­ters of the Ngaruroro River and un­pack­ing their gear, the group headed out for a ‘‘re­con trip’’ in the lit­tle re­main­ing day­light.

Sorensen and Day went one way and Prusac went an­other. All were equipped with hand held GPS de­vices that also acted as walkie-talkies.

Sorensen and Day had enough of the rain and re­turned to the hut. A short time later they got a call from Prusac say­ing he’d fallen and was hurt ‘‘pretty bad’’.

They grabbed a first aid kit, food, wa­ter and ex­tra clothes and headed out into the heavy rain and dark­ness.

With­out the ra­dio/GPS unit the pair would have strug­gled to lo­cate Prusac, who had fallen 20 me­tres down bluff then rolled a fur­ther 20m down a slop­ing face be­fore com­ing to a stop pre­car­i­ously on a ledge just me­tres from rag­ing wa­ters of the flooded Ngaruroro River.

‘‘The first sight of him will never leave our mem­o­ries, as his legs were in a con­torted po­si­tion and he was not mov­ing,’’ Sorensen said.

The main worry was Prusac’s in­jured neck, but he also had a sprained an­kle, a deep cut to his hand and was in the first stages of hy­pother­mia.

‘‘We weren’t sure how bad his neck was, so we were care­ful not to move him too much. It was time to ac­ti­vate the PLB, as there was no way to get him out.’’

Af­ter two hours passed, it was clear they would be spend­ing the night out. Sorensen went back to the hut for more clothes, sleep­ing bags and a fly.

Prusac de­te­ri­o­rated. By 2am his groans had given way to si­lence and ‘‘the un­con­trol­lable shiv­er­ing had stopped and his skin had lost all colour’’, Sorensen said.

They made it through the night. At 7.30am Prusac was still si­lent but alive.

The he­li­copter ar­rived about half an hour later.

Prusac was winched to safety. They met Prusac at Ro­torua Hospi­tal, where he’d been told he had two bro­ken ver­te­brae in his neck.

Three weeks later, back in Mel­bourne, Prusac had an ap­point­ment with a neck spe­cial­ist who told him he was lucky to be alive let alone walk­ing be­cause one of the bro­ken ver­te­brae was dis­lo­cated and putting pres­sure on the spinal cord.

‘‘The spe­cial­ist said he was one sneeze away from death,’’ Sorensen said.

Speak­ing from Mel­bourne yes­ter­day, Prusac said he still hadn’t quite men­tally pro­cessed what he’d been through.

The 40-year-old Prusac re­mem­bers ‘‘ev­ery sin­gle de­tail’’ of the fall.

‘‘When I slid off the bluff I fell fac­ing the sky, back first. I thought that was it. But I was lucky that when I landed it was on a slope, not flat. But then I be­gan rolling. The roll was so vi­o­lent and so fast I couldn’t be­lieve it,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t know how I didn’t hit a rock or tree, or how I stopped be­fore the river. If I went in there it’d have been all over,’’ Prusac said.‘‘And if I didn’t have that ra­dio they’d never have found me. A lot of luck went my way. I should have died three or four times re­ally,’’ he said.

Joe Prusac re­cov­er­ing from his in­juries, hold­ing the two de­vices that helped save him - a GPS/ walkie-talkie de­vice on the left, and an emer­gency lo­ca­tor bea­con on the right.

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