Surrounded by intense bushfire smoke, emergency services pilot Sash Zorin scoured an endless sea of dense trees last week for the wreckage of a light plane crash and the man on-board.
With little to no visibility, the 33-year-old former Navy pilot hovered over the Kanangra-Boyd National Park, where an out-of-control bushfire continues to burn, with the hope of catching a glimpse of the crumpled plane.
After several minutes, one of the four crew members onboard the Toll Ambulance Rescue Helicopter Service spotted the small aircraft out of the rear right window.
“The smoke was affecting the search significantly,” Mr Zorin told Yahoo News Australia.
A paramedic and doctor onboard the helicopter were winched down to the scene of the crash as Mr Zorin hovered above.
The man onboard, a 70-year-old pilot, had died.
It’s not the outcome the crew had hoped for, but unpredictability and sometimes tragedy are part of the job, Mr Zorin said.
“The kids jobs are always the ones that get to you the most because they’re kind of helpless and most of the time it’s not their fault that they end up in the place they’re in,” he said.
“Suicides can also be confronting.
“I’ve definitely seen some guys come from a job and it’s definitely affected them more than others.”
With almost 2900 flying hours, Mr Zorin has spent the past year dashing out the door on more than 200 rescue missions.
From car accidents, to lost and injured hikers and drownings, the pilot – who has held his licence since 2005 – has seen it all since being hired by Toll last year.
“It’s been a long-time goal of mine. It’s something quite special to be able to help someone in the community,” he said.
What is the Toll Ambulance Rescue Helicopter Service?
Toll took over services for southern NSW and ACT in 2017, working in conjunction with NSW Ambulance, ACT Ambulance and Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service to provide medical care and emergency services.
The state’s north is overseen by Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Pty Ltd.
Toll has eight Augusta Westland (AW139) helicopters across four bases.
The company’s largest base in Bankstown, Sydney, houses three helicopters and state-of-the-art training equipment, including a simulator that helps crew members train for water rescues and potential crashes.
It also has two Road Retrieval Ambulance crews.
Additional aircrafts and staff are located at the three other bases located in Canberra, Orange – in NSW’s Central West – and Wollongong.
The helicopters resemble an ambulance, with 193kgs of medical equipment and blood onboard for patients.
Each aircraft is staffed with a crew consisting of a pilot, aircrew, doctors, paramedics and/or nurses.
Last year, Toll was called out to more than 2500 missions.
The teams work in four-day shifts, made up of two days shifts and two night shifts, during which they are on constant call.
While many missions entail rushing a critically injured person to hospital, the company also provides hospital transfers.
The Toll training that prepares crew for rescues
The Bankstown base includes the company’s ACE Training Centre, which includes the Helicopter Underwater Emergency Training theatre, a virtual reality simulator and medical training rooms.
In the underwater theatre, crew members are strapped into a helicopter replica in a large pool as it’s thrashed with 1.5-metre waves and 45km/h winds.
The training exercise is aimed at educating staff about how to evacuate a helicopter if it crashes into dangerous waters during a rescue mission. It also allows teams to practice winching people to safety in treacherous conditions.
Using the virtual reality headsets, pilots and medical crew can re-enact different mission scenarios.
The simulator is one of only eight in the world and has been used by visiting foreign militaries.
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