Life or death decision sees Marmion man receive St John Ambulance Community Hero Award

Ben Harris in flight as a critical care paramedic.
Ben Harris in flight as a critical care paramedic.

THE swell is roaring, light is fading and Ben Harris has just minutes to save the life of a commercial fisherman, who is rapidly losing blood on the deck of a boat.

The critical care paramedic and his rescue chopper team are about 200km east of Esperance, at the mercy of the elements.

The victim Kye Palmer, one of two young men on the boat, is fading into unconciousness as blood continues to spill after a grisly fishing accident.

His left foot is nearly torn from his lower leg after it became entangled in a net being pulled by an industrial reel.

The chopper hovers overhead with a target site of a mere 2sq m.

It is minutes before nightfall and his saviours will have to abandon the rescue if it becomes too dark.

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Mr Harris, a 38-year-old Marmion resident, said the crew decided they had one chance.

“I got winched down on to the vessel, which was quite a task for the pilot and the crew,” he said. “When I got there, Kye’s injuries were significant enough where he’d lost a huge amount of blood.

“He was quite a sick guy; even sitting him up at one point, he went unconscious, he was that pale.

“We had minutes to get him off there because of last light and how sick he was.”

In the face of extreme conditions, precision was essential and the team delivered. They winched Mr Palmer to safety, but Mr Harris’s work was far from finished.

The patient needed a blood transfusion.

Mr Harris used the remaining blood on board the chopper, but that still wasn’t enough.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service had to administer a further two units of blood when the team arrived in Esperance after a four-hour flight from the boat.

“The job itself was unique in the timing, planning, how sick he was, how lucky he was and it was just one of those exceptional jobs,” Mr Harris said.

“The pilot, Craig Bowman, said it was probably the most extreme job that he’s done distance-wise, winching-wise; everything along those lines was at the limit of our capabilities.”

The mission took the three-man crew 12-and-a-half hours after they received the alert about 2pm at the Jandakot air base on November 6 last year.

Mr Harris today earned a St John Ambulance Community Hero Award for his part in saving Mr Palmer’s life. He was excited to receive the acknowledgement, but praised the work of his teammates: pilot Bowman and air crewman Garth Fitzgerald.

“Without the team work, I think Kye would have died,” he said.