Medic killed during canyon rescue in Australia

Winch line was cut during the helicopter rescue efforts; investigation begins into the accident

By Lema Samandar
The Warrnambool Standard 

 SYDNEY — A helicopter paramedic has died after a winch line was cut during a complex rescue operation on the NSW south coast, police say.

Ambulance NSW confirmed the the death of paramedic Mick Wilson, 41, on Christmas Day. The rescue began when a Chatswood man used his emergency distress beacon to contact emergency services after his friend who was visiting from overseas was injured.

The men were canyoning at Carrington Falls on Christmas Eve. Mr Wilson, who had 15 years experience, boarded an ambulance helicopter with another paramedic to the save men, believed to be in their 30s. Superintendent Gary Worboys said the Chatswood man was retrieved safely, then something went wrong.

"At about 8.30pm last night on their last retrieval something has occurred at the bottom of the line which has necessitated an action inside the helicopter cutting that winch line and releasing it from the helicopter," Supt Worboys told AAP on Sunday.

"As a result of that the ambulance paramedic received injuries and later died at that location near Carrington Falls." "I'm thinking it's not something to do with the helicopter, I'm thinking it's about the environment.

"It was a difficult, complex retrieval." Supt Worboys said he could not say if Mr Wilson fell, because a full investigation was under way. Rescue teams had decided another winch operation was too dangerous but resumed the rescue the next morning and brought out the canyoner.

The man was in a stable condition in hospital on Sunday. It's the first time in more than 30 years that a NSW paramedic has been killed on duty. "The death is a terrible tragedy for the family and the Ambulance Service of NSW," the director of Aeromedical and Medical Retrieval Services at Ambulance Service of NSW, Ron Manning, told reporters on Christmas Day.

The Ambulance Service has offered its condolences and support to Mr Wilson's wife, children and family. NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner and the director-general of the NSW Ministry of Health, Mary Foley, met senior staff from the Ambulance Service on Christmas morning to extend their condolences.

"This is a very sad and difficult day for the family, friends and colleagues of this most highly regarded paramedic," Ms Skinner said in statement. "I understand this is the first time in more than 30 years that a NSW paramedic has been killed on duty and for this to occur on Christmas Day only deepens the pain this family must be feeling."

Meanwhile, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has dispatched three investigators to Sydney and Wollongong to begin an investigation into the circumstances of the death. The team will interview the members of the helicopter crew, retrieve flight data from the helicopter, inspect the helicopter and gather operational and training records from the operator.

It's expected to be in Sydney and Wollongong areas until the weekend. A final report was expected to be completed within 12 months, the ATSB said.

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