Still No Joke

posted by / News / November 4, 2008

Imagine yourself in this situation:

You’re a skilled surfer on your first ever trip to the Mentawais when a free-fall floater goes badly wrong. Your head and your board meet at precisely the wrong angle, at the wrong moment. Twenty minutes later, you’re lying on the deck of the charter boat, strapped to the remains of the board, with a bad headache and no feeling whatsoever from the chest down.

Padang harbor is 20 hours away by boat, over thunderstormy waters. And Sikikap, the island closest to hand, has no airfield.

NOW what??

This is exactly what faced 35-year-old Darren Longbottom in June of this year. Darren, older brother of renowned free-surfing pro Dylan, could only lie there and try to stay calm as his skipper, “Barrenjoey” captain John McGroder, blew out his sat-phone bill trying to organize an air evacuation for the critically injured surfer.

Enter Dr Derek Allen, a New Zealander working on post-tsunami relief in the Telos Islands to the north. Dr Allen, a pilot with his own helicopter, responded to McGroder’s call, ripped a page out of an atlas and self-navigated to Sikikap in time to get Darren out of the islands before dark.

Darren was lucky Dr Allen could get there in time. But the doc himself wasn’t so fortunate. Soon after the landing, Indonesian authorities impounded his ‘copter, saying Dr Allen hadn’t sought official clearance for the mercy flight.

The terrifying incident highlights the very real dangers still faced by travelling surfers in this part of the world. Even after a decade of well-established surf travel, with thousands of surfers and millions of their dollars pouring into the area, you can break your neck and end up depending on good fortune to survive.

“It might not happen again for 10 years but it’s going to happen again,” Darren – now a quadriplegic in recovery in a Sydney hospital – says. “I’d like to get a movement going to set up a proper evacuation service in the Mentawais. Because what I went through was friggen hell. I’d hate for somebody to have to go through that again.”

This wasn’t the only recent major injury to test the effectiveness of Indo evac response times. In September a 45 year old surfer from Perth in Western Australia suffered a badly separated pelvis and severe internal bleeding after a caught-inside incident at Grajagan. According to the surfing docs who administered on-site first aid, a Bali-based helicopter service that was assigned emergency assistance status simply refused to come, claiming it was on a tourist flight over Bali.

The surfer’s travel {{{insurance}}} provider was reportedly less than helpful, telling the docs that air evac wasn’t necessary unless the patient’s life was in danger.

Some concerned friends of Darren have set up a donation program to support Dr Allen’s attempts to clear his helicopter and begin to set up an evac service that surfers can count on.

Donations can be made through this link:www.flying-doctor.collectivex.com

Or visit:www.troppodoc.com
or www.island-aid.org
for more information.

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