The West

Terrible choices at airport
Dr Paul Mark, who ran a makeshift emergency dept at Perth airport. Picture: Lee Griffith/The West Australian

For three nights in a row, Perth doctor Paul Mark headed to the airport to try to salvage lives from the bombings.

His story of that time is of a rescue effort that started within minutes of victims arriving.

Dr Mark was the first doctor to assess victims as he headed a team at a makeshift emergency department at Perth Airport, with trestle tables set up like a field hospital.

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The then 48-year-old was already a seasoned emergency medicine doctor, involved in many disasters including the Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria and so knew about badly burnt bodies.

But he was still unprepared for the sensory overload - the sight and smell of the injured, particularly on the first plane when he had to decide who was taken off first. That sometimes meant climbing over badly injured, highly distressed people yelling in pain.

"It was a tough time," he said. "I had to get the sickest patients out first and I had to move others out of the way to get to them."

Dr Mark, who now heads clinical services for the South Metropolitan Area Health Service, said the sight of those first casualties was most confronting because they had received little first aid and many had not had pain relief.

"When we see patients rushed in they're usually in an ambulance and have been well-managed but in Bali it was obviously chaotic," he said. "The first jets out were trying to reduce the number of badly injured in Bali because they didn't have facilities for mass casualties."

When the RAAF Hercules plane arrived, there was stretcher-upon-stretcher of badly injured people but they had received intensive first aid and so most were stable.

His memories of later planes were of lots of very dazed people with grey burns and skin hanging off. "Sometimes there was a bit of swearing but really they were just saying 'please help me'," he said.

The emergency team
The West Australian

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