Windy hill landing part of helicopter rescue for farmer

Jeremy Watson/Gareth McDougall, March 2024
Farmer Jeremy Watson was miles from home when he was injured in a quad bike accident, but help was on its way . . .

It happened a year after Cyclone Gabrielle but Jeremy Watson can probably still blame the weather bomb for his accident.

The Gisborne farmer was heading right out the back of his property to fix fences when he dismounted his “old faithful” quad bike to clear a slip off the track.

“I was just tying the shovel back on the bike and somehow it got caught on the throttle and the thing revved up and threw itself on its side, landing on top of my legs,” he says.

“The pain blew in straight away and I knew I was in trouble.”

Jeremy was a long way from help: at 735 hectares the Monowai Station sheep and beef farm he leases with wife Laura is a good size so he was around half-an-hour from the homestead, which is itself more than 20 minutes from Gisborne city.

The good thing was, carrying a mobile phone meant he was able to call Laura.

The not so good thing was, farmers being farmers, he decided to roll the 400-kilogram bike off his legs and attempt to walk down the hill.

“In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea as I already know my ankle was pretty unstable. But by using the shovel as an aid I did manage to get a couple of hundred of metres along the track before the pain kicked into overdrive and I went into shock.”

By that time Laura had arrived and, quickly spotting that her husband was in no state to be riding the bike back home, contacted emergency services.

“To be honest I was pretty out of it by then but it seemed like the (Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue) helicopter was there in 10 minutes.”

But while the team arrived in record time, it was no easy rescue. Jeremy’s location on a steep slope meant they had to land on the side of the hill in windy conditions.

“It was amazing how close they managed to get to me and the (critical care flight) paramedic was quick to administer pain relief, check my injuries, and make me as comfortable as he could.

“I just feel incredibly lucky to have got that level of care, that fast.”

And there was more help to come as, for the rescue team, Gisborne Hospital was just minutes away and their patient was safely handed over for further treatment.

“As it turned out Jeremy was very lucky with no broken bones, just nerve damage and lots and lots of bruising,” Laura says. “We are just so grateful to the team that came out to Waimata Valley to pick him up when he needed them.”

What his injuries did mean was that he had to wear a moon boot to stop his foot from dropping and tripping him up.

However, he admits to temporarily ditching it a couple of days later when he and Laura took to the stage to accept their Ballance Farm Environment Award.

“I just strapped my ankle up under my dress boots and made sure I had enough pain medication under my belt, so I didn’t need any wine on the night,” he says.

“My parents had come all the way from the South Island to attend the awards ceremony with us, which they did, but they also had to help with the dipping and crutching while I was hopping around and that certainly wasn’t in the plan!”

A week after the accident Jeremy was back at Gisborne Hospital to get his nerve damage assessed, and to undergo further treatment.

“In the end I didn’t have to have surgery so I was lucky, no doubt about it. Anything can happen on a farm and you can often be a long way from help, so the rescue helicopter is a godsend.”

But he already knew that.

“Laura’s dad had been picked up by the rescue helicopter after falling from his horse so for years our family has got behind the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust’s annual charity auction night,” he says.

“One thing’s for sure . . . we’re definitely going to be there this year.”

CAPTION: REUNITED: Gisborne farmer Jeremy Watson (left) and Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter critical care flight paramedic Gareth McDougall were reunited a week after Jeremy was injured in a quad-bike accident at his Waimata Valley farm