June 9, 2019
"You know when you kick a Lego box? That was the sound of when the crash happened."
Charlie Casey remembers the way the glass shattered when a truck's detached trailer slammed into the taxi van he was travelling in.
The 11-year-old was with his dad and grandad, travelling to lunch in Matakana, near Warkworth on January 16 last year.
"I closed my eyes and I reopened them and I was on the side of the road," Charlie said.
He suffered severe leg injuries and was given blood by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew before he was flown to Starship children's hospital in a critical condition.
"I almost died and I am thankful for all the people that saved my life."
His father Martin Casey, who is blind, said during the crash it felt like the van was careening in slow motion as he tried to brace himself.
After they hit the ground everything went really, really quiet, Casey said.
He managed to grab onto his son and told him to stay still until help arrived, he said.
Then the "endless" sound of sirens began and the smell of petrol fumes filled the air as two helicopters arrived at the scene.
"I couldn't remember too much after that really," Casey said.
"I vaguely remember helicopters and people dragging me out of the van.
"I had sprained my spine, so I was in a lot of pain."
They were trapped in the wreck and needed Fire and Emergency New Zealand to remove the top of the van to get them out.
The Northland Rescue Helicopter flew Casey to hospital while the Auckland service took his son to Starship children's hospital.
More than a year on from the crash the family are still recovering; Charlie, now 12, is about to have his 13th surgery.
"We've had great surgeons who have managed to put Charlie back together again," Casey said.
"Life has sort of been put on hold. So we are just living day by day really.
"We were in the hospital for a couple of months, and it was just day after day of nurses and doctors."
Casey's wife Tania stopped working to support them full-time and she called a Givealittle page, created by family friend Fiona McGeough, a "godsend".
She said the family were incredibly grateful for all the support they had received from the Warkworth community.
Casey also wanted to thank the emergency services crew who rescued them on the day of the crash.
Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter service doctor Louise Park recalled that Charlie's leg was significantly damaged in the crash.
"He had huge swelling of his thigh and what we call an open fracture of his lower leg," she said.
"So a pretty nasty injury. He looked really unwell. He was pale and drowsy and in pain.
"We weren't sure if he would keep his leg."
Helicopter crewman Aaron Knight also remembered the injury: "I have never seen anything like it".
Knight and Park recently reunited with the Casey family in the chopper's Mechanics Bay hangar along with police officer Sarah Hoogenberg.
"It's been a really tumultuous year for him, but it's incredible seeing him up and walking," Park said.
The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter service now has a doctor like Park onboard for callouts 24/7, every day of the year.
Night time missions account for nearly one third of all missions they attend.
The service recently launched its annual appeal focused on keeping doctors onboard.
To donate visit the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust website.