September 23, 2022
An Auckland woman is glad to be alive after an ill-fated off-road trip in the Kaimai Range saw a vehicle plunge down a ravine, leaving her with a broken back and unable to walk.
Sam Olney, 23, was out with her workmates on a four-wheel drive up Thompson Track in the Waikato-Bay of Plenty mountain range when the back wheels of their station wagon went off the edge of the road.
The vehicle started careening out of control down a steep bank, flipping end over end before coming to rest.
But despite her horror injuries, the woman she said realised she was lucky to be alive and was determined to recover.
"I am here and I am alive," Olney told the Herald.
"I'm just super grateful to be here."
Olney said she had not been on the road before. Some of her workmates, who she was with on the wilderness excursion last Tuesday, had been there several times previously.
"We went for an outing because we had some time off.
"The track was definitely very narrow, it felt like we were driving close to the edge.
"The driver tried their best to keep us in."
However, unknown to them, one of the back wheels had gone off road, Olney said.
"I didn't notice it at first. I remember hearing one person telling us to hold on, we are going off.
"And after the first roll down I don't remember much."
She woke up in excruciating pain, realising she had been ejected out of a back window.
"I remember waking up on the ground, boys yelling out to me, trying to find me.
"It was scary at that time. I was lying there in pain, trying to keep calm.
"One other person from another car ran up to me, administered first aid and kept me still until the rescue team arrived."
Olney said she really appreciated the rescue team who helped her that day.
"It was not an easy rescue... another person from the car had also been seriously injured."
The pilot who rescued Olney and her workmates said it took hours to safely transport them to the hospital.
Auckland Helicopter Rescue team were dispatched to the scene at 11.45am last Tuesday by ambulance control.
"We were hovering over a thick forest area, and it was a windy day, a lot of turbulence made the task a bit difficult," Pilot James Tayler said.
"We saw the jeep-type vehicle down the steep bank. We couldn't see any people at that time.
"We winched the medic down first and then landed the helicopter some distance away," Tayler said.
"A member of the public who was travelling on the same muddy road gave us a lift to the scene.
"It took half an hour to winch the first person up, who had to be on a stretcher."
An Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter Pre-Hospital and Retrieval Medicine (PHRM) Doctor was also on the scene as was a critical care paramedic.
The Hamilton rescue team also arrived on the scene, Tayler said.
"Two people were seriously injured and a third person suffered moderate injuries.
"We transported one patient to Middlemore Hospital because medics said it was the best place for her treatment.
"The other went with the Hamilton team. The third managed to get out by themself."
A spokesperson from Auckland Helicopter Rescue Trust said the crew arrived at Middlemore Hospital shortly before 3pm.
The track was popular among four-wheel drivers, Tayler said.
"It is a narrow muddy terrain; I believe the vehicle must have slipped off track."
Optimistic for her recovery after suffering serious spinal damage, Olney said she was determined to walk again.
"I am a survivor. I won't say I won't walk again. For me, it's all about getting to rehab.
"I might be able to walk again."
Olney was a member of the KAS Netball Club in Waiuku which recently won their grade.
A return to the court was something which, if ever possible, would be a long way off.
"It is definitely been hard to accept I cannot play again for a long time. I enjoyed netball."
Olney said at this stage, she would have to stay at the hospital for another couple of months.
She was thankful for the support of her father and her partner.
"My partner and his family have been amazing they have been by my side since I came to the hospital."