Blackberry cushion breaks fall from cliff

Gorge Rd, near where the man fell. Photo: Google Maps
Gorge Rd, near where the man fell. Photo: Google Maps
A man seriously injured when he fell 40m down a cliff in darkness near Queenstown early yesterday was fortunate to land in blackberries, one of his rescuers says.

The Queenstown-based alpine cliff rescue team arrived about 1.30am, after emergency services were initially alerted at 12.25am that the man had fallen from Gorge Rd, near the intersection with McMillan Rd, and close to the Shotover River.

The man was later flown to Dunedin Hospital by helicopter. An update on his condition was not available last night.

A police spokeswoman said it was not yet known how the accident occurred, but the man was able to call for help and remained in contact with emergency services as they tried to reach him.

Police, St John and Fire and Emergency New Zealand attended.

Some Arrowtown volunteer firefighters with rope training had initially climbed down the cliff, but were unable to reach the man, cliff rescue team manager Russell Tilsley said.

The man had not fallen directly to the bottom of the cliff, but had struck part of the side of it about 20m-25m down, and once or twice later on the way down, before landing among blackberries at the bottom, near the river.

The way he had fallen and what he had landed on might have helped break his fall.

The man was lifted out in a Stokes rescue basket; for safety reasons, two ropes had been used to do the lifting.

Four or five volunteer firefighters helped with lifting each rope, and the ropes had also been securely anchored at the top of the cliff.

The rescue had gone smoothly overall, but some dirt had continued to fall from the cliff during the rescue, and the basket occasionally snagged on vegetation.

During the lift, "quite a bit of an overhang" had to be overcome in final six metres.

That was the most difficult part of the overall lift, but extensive training had helped the operation to go smoothly, and it was completed about 3.30am.

Mr Tilsley was pleased with the positive outcome and all of the emergency services — including volunteer firefighters, ambulance officers, police and the cliff rescue squad members — had contributed strongly to a successful collaborative effort, he said.

"It’s what you train for.

"You get called out in the middle of the night, you go there, do the job and go home."

"It’s a good result."

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