When he came to, there was complete silence
Man tells of 16-hour ordeal
With just a little dog for company, a man in pain watched the frost form around him.
ROSE HARDING reports.
“Grandad, are you there?”
The sounds of a car stopping and the voice of his 18-year-old grand-daughter Holly were the most welcome sounds Matthew Forde had heard in all his 77 years.
That’s because it meant the end of a 16-hour ordeal on a freezing night trapped in his utility down a bank just 3km from his home on Matapiro Station on Queen’s Birthday Monday.
Forde, now warm in a hospital bed recovering from internal injuries and two crushed vertebrae, does not really remember what happened and how his vehicle came to jump a roadside fence, clear a willow tree, and end out of sight from practically every direction.
It was a winding piece of road so he was not speeding and it’s road he reckons he has driven over “at least a million times”.
What he does remember is that he was driving home with Tam, the chihuahua he and wife Val are looking after for a friend who is in a Taradale rest home. Mr Forde and Tam had been to see her and were driving home about 4.30pm on Queen’s Birthday Monday.
He says he remembers taking his foot off the accelerator and then nothing until he woke up trapped and helpless, ironically in a paddock belonging to Matapiro.
He was aware of the Holden Rodeo nosing into a bank which is when he thinks the damage was done to his back.
When he came to, there was complete silence. He thought he would be able to attract attention with the vehicle lights and horn but a terminal had come off the battery in the crash.
When he looked over he could see Tam unconscious in the passenger side footwell.
He tried to open his door but couldn’t which he now realises was just as well because he would have fallen out and died of exposure.
As he tried to crawl to the other side of the cab, he couldn’t move without excruciating pain.
He managed to reach into the back seat and retrieve a pillow which he put between his badly bruised chest and stomach and the steering wheel to keep himself warm and to protect his injuries.
“I wasn’t frightened, I was working it out.”
When he began hyperventilating he used a corner of the pillow case to stop it.
He was relieved when the little dog came to, climbed onto the pillow and tucked his face under his chin, “as if to comfort me”.
The pain and shock took their toll, causing him to vomit and then dry retch.
He still wasn’t too worried because he believed the pilot of a topdressing plane working in the district would spot him in the morning.
He filled in the time watching the frost form on his windscreen and an icicle drip through a crack and freeze.
He looked out for satellites going through the night sky and despaired as he saw the sides of the gully he was trapped in go white with frost.
His ute was silver so he thought the frost would make it even harder to see.
He counted 28 cars and three aircraft go by in the first few hours.
Tam climbed onto his chest under the pillow to keep warm.
“That little dog was 16 hours in the cab without disgracing himself.”
Mr Forde knew his frantic family would be looking for him so it would only be a matter of time before he was found.
He says he never thought he would die and was preparing for a long stay.
Nonetheless, the relief when he heard the car stop and reverse and the sound of Holly’s voice was huge.
When Holly heard him reply, she burst into tears.
The fire service, police and ambulance arrived and he was strapped to a back board to get him up the bank.
Being taken out of the vehicle was the most painful experience he can remember.
“That’s when I really started to vomit.”
He was freezing cold. “My feet were blue.”
The nearest neighbours arrived with hot water and blankets as he slowly thawed out.
“And I never even got a sore throat out of it.”
He realises now that if he had been able to get out of the ute, he would never have been able to get back up the steep and slippery bank to the road and his back injuries stopped him moving much at all.
“It was the longest night of my life.”
Mr Forde is no stranger to accidents and it’s not the first time a dog has helped him get through it.
Almost 30 years ago he somersaulted a tractor over a bank on the farm. A labrador was able to lead searchers to him.
Now he faces four more weeks flat on his back as he mends. His internal injuries have healed but his back will take longer and then he’s keen to get home.
And the little dog? He is safe and sound. “He was good company, we had a good yarn,” he says with a chuckle.
Photo caption – ORDEAL OVER: Matthew Forde, recovering in hospital, says he wasn’t frightened as he waited to be found.
HBTODAY PICTURE: DUNCAN BROWN