The Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter moves into position
above a Korean fishing vessel in the Southern Ocean ready
to assist an injured New Zealand fisheries observer. Photo
by Helicopters Otago.
In a race against darkness, the crew of the Otago
Regional Rescue Helicopter flew a challenging mission to save a
man who lost part of an arm in an accident aboard a foreign
New Zealand fisheries observer Martin Bowers, whose brother
is Dunedin doctor Andrew Bowers, is now in Dunedin Hospital
having had a forearm mutilated when his life jacket became
snagged on a conveyor belt on a Korean fishing vessel about
105km southeast of Bluff on Friday night.
Helicopters Otago owner and pilot Graeme Gale said the
mission on Friday night required flying 180km from the Taieri
airport to the ship, which took about one hour.
''We were fighting fading light ... the tricky bit is
winching the person and paramedic up, but we got it done in
Night-vision goggles and instrumentation were required for
the flight back to Dunedin, he said.
''There were a lot of challenges. To get him to hospital in
under three hours is pretty amazing when you're talking about
the Southern Ocean.''
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) has launched an investigation into
The rescue helicopter was called about 8.30pm after Mr
Bowers, a fisheries observer with the Ministry for Primary
Industries, suffered the injury.
A paramedic was winched on to the ship, where he stabilised
Mr Bowers (47), who is from Whitianga, before he was flown to
Dunedin Hospital about 9.30pm, a MNZ spokeswoman said.
Mr Bowers' mother, Mary, said her son had a ''total, horrible
accident'' as he was putting on his life jacket.
''Part of it caught in a belt that was moving, and it tore
his shoulder out and mutilated his arm a bit. He's had part
of his arm cut off. Horrific.''
Mr Bowers' dislocated shoulder had to be put back into place,
while his forearm had to be amputated below the elbow.
Mr Bowers' uncle, George Robertson, said his nephew had been
climbing up towards the ship's deck when the life jacket was
caught in a conveyor belt.
''It yanked him in there, tore his left arm right out of the
Mr Robertson said his nephew was expected to remain in
hospital for at least two weeks.
He seemed in good spirits, joking with his daughter and
telling her he was now a pirate with one hand.
''The fact that he could talk was a good sign, as far as I
could see,'' Mr Robertson said.
Mrs Bowers said her son underwent skin graft surgery
yesterday and doctors had decided they did not need to remove
any more of his arm.
He was progressing favourably last night and was no longer in
the high dependency unit, a Dunedin Hospital spokesman said.
Mrs Bowers said her son's daughter and brother, who both
lived in Dunedin, were by his side. His girlfriend, a nurse,
had also joined him. He was in quite considerable pain but
was grateful to hospital staff, she said.
He enjoyed his job as a fisheries observer and had plenty of
seagoing experience. He used to do charter trips in Whitianga
and was a local game fishing club president.
''He's a really super guy, he just loved that job. I suppose
he'll be hoping one day he'll get back to it. With an
artificial arm, it won't hold him back,'' Mrs Bowers said.
''He knows his way around a boat - there's no way in the
world that he doesn't. It was just an accident.''
It was Mr Bowers' second accident at sea in 13 years.
In 2001, with his father Earle, he was on a fishing trip in
Fiji when a rogue wave tipped their boat and threw them on to
a coral reef.
He dragged his injured father through the water and over
sharp coral back to shore, cutting his feet.
The MNZ spokeswoman said an investigation into Friday's
incident would begin today.
She would not name the Korean-flagged ship, or give out any
details about the vessel and its crew, while the
investigation was ongoing.
Ministry for Primary Industry's director-general Martyn Dunne
had been in touch with Mr Bowers and his family who were with
''I am deeply concerned by what has happened. Our thoughts
are with our staff member and his family.
There will be an investigation into this incident, but right
now our focus is on supporting him and his family.
''MPI's fisheries observers do critical work, often in
difficult conditions, to assure the sustainability of New
Zealand's fisheries,'' he said.
Additional reporting Rebecca Quilliam, of APNZ.