Home > News > Archive > 15th February 2007

Couple calm among carnage

Courtesy of Te Awamutu Courier
Nigel Whibley and Tarn Fearon
DYNAMIC DUO: Nigel Whibley and Tarn Fearon read coverage of the accident. 046071AD

By Grant Johnston

Te Awamutu St John paramedic Nigel Whibley has been hailed as the hero of last Saturday’s horrific bus crash near Tokoroa, but he reckons partner Tarn Fearon was ‘truly amazing’.

The couple were on their way to a wedding when they came upon the bus crash at about 12.20pm, with people and luggage strewn across the road and the bus on its side.

“There were people running around in a daze and a number of ‘walking wounded’,” Mr Whibley says.

The bus, containing 15 Korean tourists, had rolled and crashed - dragging passengers along the road as it skidded on its side. Mr Whibley did a triage assessment of the injured and put a call through to ambulance control on his cellphone, detailing what resources were needed.

“Bystanders were doing a good job of controlling the scene and assisting those injured passengers who were out of the bus. One man seemed to have a fairly good handle on what had happened and after I introduced myself he gave me a run down on
where people were at that stage. Meanwhile Tarn was straight in the bus and she called out to me information about the injured trio trapped inside the bus. Given that she has only been a volunteer (for St John) for a couple of years, she did an incredible job.”

Ms Fearon began assisting an 18-year-old woman who had her right arm severed above the elbow. The only equipment available at that stage was from first aid kits people had taken from their cars and clothing, to use to stem major bleeding.

“She was in state of severe shock. I stemmed the bleeding and checked for other injuries making her as comfortable as I could.”

Mr Whibley had joined his partner in the bus as quickly as he could and attended to a 34-yearold woman, who also had an arm severed in the accident. She was in an hysterical state.

“I tried to calm her down and treated her injuries.”

Outside the bus among the other injured was another woman with a severed arm - Mr Whibley kept moving between the bus and outside to check on injuries and the state of patients.

“Without my equipment I felt naked. I was hanging out waiting for the ambulance to arrive.”

Once the first ambulance arrived Mr Whibley was able to set up IV fluids, oxygen bottles and pain relief for the injured and to concentrate on those still inside the bus.

Ms Fearon’s patient wanted to know if her arm could be saved.

“I just told her to stay as calm as she could and that she would soon be at the hospital.”

Mr Whibley kept his hysterical patient calm by talking to her about her homeland.

“She told me about an inlet in Korea that has a number of islands around it and it sounded like a beautiful place. She was very proud of her country.”

Tokoroa deputy fire chief Dave Morris said the accident was like ‘a scene from main street Baghdad’ when fire crews arrived. He was full of praise for Mr Whibley and Ms Fearon - as the couple were for the firefighters.

St John Ambulance Tokoroa station manager, Craig Scott said the accident site was one of worst he had seen.

“I’ve dealt with critical people before, but when you get a whole busload of injured people, it’s a whole different dimension.”

Once Mr Whibley had appraised Mr Scott on the status of patients and what fluids and pain relief had been administered, the couple were able to carry on their way to the wedding (along with Mr Whibley’s mother Sylvia and son, Matthew) - two hours late. The wedding was for Mr Whibley’s nephew, Michael McLiesh of Te Awamutu. They did not make the wedding ceremony at lake Rerewhakaaitu, but no one was complaining at the reception.

They were dressed for the wedding in the new clothes they had bought the day before, when they came across the accident. Ms Fearon was wearing her high heels before she climbed into the stricken bus and she was grateful she was wearing a petticoat as her mini skirt rode up over her waist. She washed Mr Whibley’s blood stained shirt with a flannel soaked in saline solution, in the car while they drove to the wedding, and hung it out the window to dry.

Mr Whibley was station manager at Raglan (where the couple live) before joining Te Awamutu St John two years ago to further his career. Ms Fearon works at Raglan Trust Hospital (she has expertise in treating spinal injuries and has worked with the Wheel Blacks). She is a volunteer for St John in Raglan but also spends time with Te Awamutu St John. She says a training session with Raglan St John station manager Chris Taylor last year on what to do in the event of a bus crash proved invaluable - “I thought, I’ve done this, I know what to do.”

No doubt, once the Korean tourists lives return (as much as possible) to normal, they will look back and wonder just who that pair of roadside angels where who came to their aid at the crash before emergency services arrived.