Kiwi Doctor in Daring Helicopter Rescue - Remote Sumatran Islands 


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On Tuesday May 20th 2008 Dr Allen received a urgent message from a Surf Charter boat Captain Matt Cruden ( Mangalui Indah ) informing him that a 35 year old surfer in the south Mentawai Islands had suffered an neck injury and was paralyzed from below his armpits. 

This is a very high level of paralysis and Dr Allen knew that the man was in danger of having his muscles for breathing paralyzed, and he would die.


An army helicopter based in Pekanbaru was unable to help as it was flying to another destination. Also, without fuel in Mentawais,  the heli would take 5 hours to reach the charter boat as it would need to stop and refuel in Padang.

The Surf Charter boat could return to Padang port but this would take 20 hours and the motion of the sea might cause further damage to the broken neck and trigger respiratory failure. This was a life or death situation.

Dr Allen indicated that he had enough fuel to get to south Mentawai and maybe enough to get directly to Padang. So realizing the life and death nature of the problem, he flew to Sikakap in South Mentawi to meet the charter boat Barrenjoey. At the wharf, Dr Allen examined 35 yo Darren Longbottom and talked the situation over with 2 French doctors and an Australian insurance doctor via telephone. The medical consensus was that the patient needed immediate medical evacuation using the helicopter. 

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The boat captain agreed that the best chance of saving this man’s life was to ask Dr Allen to fly him by helicopter to Padang where there was a private jet medivac aircraft waiting to transport Mr Longbottom to Singapore. The boat captain was aware that the aircraft was not licensed to fly his passenger but the first concern was to save his life making best use of what ever facilities were available.


Mr Longbottom is 180 cm tall and 95 kg and it took some time to cut a back spinal board (using his broken surfboard) to size and to fit him comfortably and securely into the Robinson R22 helicopter. This was done, the helicopter, was refuelled and Dr Allen flew East to coastal West Sumatera and north along the coast toward Padang.


Unfortunately, securing Mr Longbottom into helicopter had taken quite some time and soon Dr Allen realized that he would not be able to fly directly to Padang because of failing daylight and heavy haze. Dr Allen made a late afternoon landing at Tarusan Cerokok and transported  the patient to Padang international airport by local ambulance. The medivac aircraft departed for Singapore at 12 midnight and the patient reached intensive care in a stable condition but still paralysed from below the arm pits.


Dr Allen returned to the helicopter as soon as the medivac jet had departed and slept on the ground near the helicopter for security. The next day he spent at the Tarusan police station being interviewed/ interrogated, and also sleeping on concrete that night near the helicopter. The next day he spent at the helicopter being interviewed by Lanud (Air Force) officials and sleeping next to helicopter until he was able to arrange a truck to Lanud, Bandara Tabing after midnight.


Of course Dr Derek Allen wants to fulfil the legal requirements of Indonesia and so enable this helicopter medical service to bring help to the communities in these poor and remote islands.


Dr Allen is appealing for funding to continue the process of gaining Flight Approval. While the helicopter is held in Padang, Dr Allen will loose several days every time he needs to do maintenance work on the helicopter even though the work takes only 30 minutes to complete. Piston driven helicopters require regular engine starts to reduce the risk of corrosion and to comply with the manufacturers and NZ aviation authorities safety schedules.


This requires Dr Derek to travel by boat and bus overland to Padang, a journey of 18 hrs one way every time he needs to check and maintain the helicopter. Every day spent in Padang is 50 sick people he is unable to see in Pulau Tello and surrounding islands. Some patients travel from outlying islands a long distance from Telos. 


In Telos Dr Allen can take care of regular helicopter maintenance while continuing his medical assistance to the island community.


Darren Longbottom, the surfer that Dr Derek rescued, is recovering in Sydney. His story has been covered by Australian Surfing Life Magazine and his friends & local community have raised over A$160,000 to help the family.  Derek was the unsung hero in all the media coverage to date and we think the world should know more about his amazing work and his bravery putting everything on the line to save Darren's life.


Dr Derek is helping remote island communities in the Mentawais, Telos and Nias islands where medical support is close to non-existent. 


The rescue has ironically put this vital work into jeopardy.


Derek's helicopter is now impounded and his passport is being held by authorities. Derek needs help and he needs it fast! He has done nothing wrong.... in fact he did everything right! but rules are rules and he had to break a few to get the job done.


This URGENT appeal has been launched by friends of Troppodoc to raise funds so that a license can be arranged for the helicopter. Any surplus will be used to continue Derek's vital work in the islands.





 If you prefer to donate without using the Fundable Pledge procedure, please click on this button to donate via Island Aid's PayPal account. Note that the funds are for the Flying Doctor Appeal.

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