A man who pulled a helicopter pilot from a crevasse in Antarctica has told a coronial inquest he feared he would have to watch his colleague die.
Pilot David Wood fell into the crevasse during a routine fuel drop on the Western Ice Shelf last year.
He was rescued from the crevasse but later died of hypothermia at Australia’s Davis Base.
On Thursday, James Hamilton told the Canberra inquest he volunteered to go into the crevasse because he was the skinniest member of the rescue team.
He said he could not see Mr Wood at first.
“It was very smooth and it was very uniform… seven metres down it had a bend and then just tapered like a big wedge,” he said.
“At the bend I could see the top of his helmet.”
He told the court he spoke to Mr Wood who replied saying: “I’m cold…get me out”.
The inquest had previously heard Mr Wood was only wearing a polar fleece when he fell into the crevasse.
Mr Hamilton said by the time he reached Mr Wood he had deteriorated.
“He was coming in and out of consciousness and he was repeating himself,” he said.
“I would not call him alert.”
He told the court he was wedged in the ice and he could only manage to tie a sling around his arms.
“He looked pretty stuck to me,” he said.
Mr Hamilton told the court that when the rescuers tried to pull Mr Wood upwards he screamed.
Under questioning from the Counsel Assisting the Coroner, James Stewart, he admitted he faced a grim choice.
“Were your realistic options to lift him [out] by his arms or wait there while he died?” Mr Stewart asked.
“Yes.” Mr Hamilton replied.
Risky helicopter operation ruled out
The court heard a second attempt freed Mr Wood, and he was slowly taken to the surface.
Mr Hamilton said he lay on the ice in a foetal position after his rescue.
“It basically indicated to me that he had relaxed and that possibly he was going down and he was possibly on death’s door,” he said.
Mr Hamilton rejected suggestions the second pilot could have lifted him out with the helicopter, saying it was far too risky.
“That’s cowboy country,” he said.
He told the court there was a real danger to both pilots because there would be too much force.
Mr Hamilton told the court if the area had been properly probed for crevasses the incident would have been avoided.
The inquest is yet to hear from doctors who treated Mr Wood and the head of the station at the time.