Hunter ‘should have died 3 or 4 times’
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.