A pilot dragged his passenger to safety and buried him neck-deep in sand to protect him from hypothermia Sunday night after their helicopter crashed in crocodile-infested mudflats in Australia’s Northern Territory.
“The pilot thought that in this remote location, nobody would find them. So he buried his friend to try and stop the hypothermia,” said Ian Badham, director of CareFlight, the air ambulance service involved in the rescue. The two friends had gone camping on a remote beach without road access, about 130 km (80 miles) from the Northern Territory capital of Darwin. While leaving Sunday night, the pair decided to fly their two-seater helicopter over waters that are home to large crocodiles. “It’s an area known for its big saltwater crocodiles,” Badham said. “Those things make alligators look like wussies.” The pilot later told rescuers that they flew in to take a closer look. The next thing he remembered was lying upside down in the mud with the wreckage of the helicopter on top of him, Badham said. The men, both in their 50s, were about 100 meters (328 feet) from the main beach. Finding his friend seriously hurt, the pilot dragged him back to shore, away from the crocodiles — and buried him in sand up to his neck to prevent him from freezing to death. Rescuers responded after the pilot used a satellite phone to alert them. The friend remained hospitalized Monday in serious but stable condition, Badham said. He suffered head and chest injuries. He also fractured his arm and several ribs. The pilot suffered minor injuries. “It was the opinion of the (air-ambulance) doctor that the friend’s injuries were grave and, quite likely, this man would not have survived the night,” Badham said.