Tanami

Wednesday 16 September

P9120049 Left Alice Friday morning for the Tanami.

The first 200 kilometres until the Tilmouth Roadhouse is bitumen and was a fairly boring drive. At Tilmouth we topped up the fuel and had a bite to eat.

This metre long monitor thought he owned the road and was not moving for anyone. I hope he survived the traffic!

Just after Tilmouth the bitumen ended and the corrugations and bull dust started. We let all tyres down to 26psi. As we had been told the road was in good condition as it was being used by road trains taking supplies to the gold mines in the TanamiP9110025
 

We saw several road trains on the road, some carrying general supplies, some fuel. You make sure that all windows are closed when they pass.

We made for Renehans Bore, about 400 kilometres along the road for the first nights camp. The bore was not running and it was just a rest stop alongside the road however as good camping spots are few and far between in the Tanami we made camp.  Not long after we made camp another couple drove into the area. We got talking to them and they decided to also make camp. They where Kerry and Craig from Melbourne.

Once the fire was going we settled down with the first beer of the evening. Talk was about how the remoteness and dangerousness of the Tanami might have been overrated. This all changed when a road train came into camp in a huge cloud of dust. The driver shouted “There has been a roll over 5 kilometres back down the road, do you have a sat phone”.

Whilst Craig and Kerry and ourselves had HF transceivers we did not have a sat phone so the road train driver took off for his destination, The Granites Goldmine about 120 kilometres further west. He did say that he didn’t think anyone was injured.

We decided that Craig and Kerry would stay at camp and try to get assistance via their HF radio whilst Vicki and I would go to the accident scene. By now night had set and it was pitch black.

The scene we found was utter devastation. The car had rolled at high speed, wheels and doors had been torn off and there was debris all over the road. A 14 year old girl was the only adult standing. A quick assessment showed that we had 4 adult females and three babies. One adult had probable spinal injuries, multiple broken bones and internal injuries Her 5 month old baby had been thrown from the car and struck her head. The baby had a week pulse, shallow breathing and we could not wake her. Another female had probable spinal injuries and possibly a fractured collar bone, A third female had head wounds and whilst these weren’t serious it indicated a head trauma. Most where also suffering from shock.

I radioed this information to Craig who passed this information to VKS737 and Kerry and Craig then came to lend further assistance. We gave VKS737 a GPS position and they informed us that police had been informed then for some unknown reason they went of the air. This left us not knowing when assistance would arrive and more importantly we could not receive medical advice.

There we were on a remote and dark dirt road with multiple victims with serious injuries knowing that assistance would take probably 4 hours to reach us. We did the only things we could, immobilised the suspected spinal injuries with what we had, used what came to hand to keep them warm and kept them supplied with water. Luckily it was a warm night.

About 8:00 we saw lights coming from the west. Because of the terrain and the absence of lights it is possible to see cars about 15 minutes before they arrive. This would be to early for help from The Granites Goldmines and it turned out to be 2 prospectors (more about them later). They did have a satellite phone and we could confirm that assistance had been sent from the mine and also from Yuendumu settlement 200 kilometres east. A road train came through just after that and although he slowed down to walking pace he still raised an enormous amount of dust.

The young mother was in a very bad way and we had serious concerns for her survival.

The 14 year old girl was very frightened. She told us that her grandmother has been killed last year in a similar accident only about 10 kilometres further on.

Just before 10:00 a mine recue team arrived on scene. Three vehicles including an ambulance with a paramedic. The paramedic was taken back by the number and seriousness of the injuries as she had not received our transmitted information and was relying on the road train drivers assessment of no serious injuries. She only had the capacity to handle one spinal injury. She was very competent and agreed with our assessment of the most seriously injured. It was a great relief to have professionals on scene as we had been there for about 4 hours until this assistance arrived.

Vicki and Kerry literally had their hands full caring for the babies.

About 11:00 police arrived and about 11:30 a convoy from Yuendumu arrived. Yuendumu had received our advice about injuries and they had a doctor and nurses with them. With another ambulance on scene the last spinal injury could be immobilised and removed from the road. This was about 6 hours after the accident. The victims still faced several hours of slow transport over corrugated roads before they could be airlifted to Alice Springs by the RFDS at first light.

By 12:30 with a number of professionals on scene we where redundant so we made our way back to camp. We roused the cooking fire, had a bite to eat, a glass of wine and finally got to bed around 2:00.

This was certainly a reminder that the Tanami was remote and not to be complacent. Medical assistance can take a lot longer to arrive than in the city.

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