Recounting A Near-Death Experience At Gnaraloo
"I felt myself falling head first with the lip. Then bang. Lights out." – Luke Wyllie.
Three weeks back Luke Wyllie suffered a wipeout at Gnaraloo. It was low-tide and Luke went over the falls. In return, he was gifted with life threatening injuries and will spend the next three months in a body brace. Stab dialled up Mr Wyllie to check in on his recovery and hear his account. It's worth noting that Luke lost consciousness. This is his recollection of what happened from 9am Sunday to 4am Monday.
“I’m out of the bed," Luke tells Stab. "It’s a big relief to be semi-mobile again. They have me in this pretty restrictive chest brace that reaches right down to my belly button. I have to wear it for three months. Shower in it, sleeping in it. It’s a nightmare."
Here's how it went down:
"I was up at Exmouth and knew there was swell around," Luke tells us. "I flew into Gnaraloo early Sunday morning. The tide was really low; I thought, ‘fuck it’. The idea was to go out and wait for the tide to fill."
"It’s wild when it gets low out there. When you paddle out your hands and fins scrape the reef. It was really empty when we got there, just a few boogers and a handful of surfers. I got one six-footer with a decent little pit. Then a few deadly ones rolled through. It was sketchy. I knew when it filled in, it was going to be off the charts. I thought, for now, I’ll just surf the end section."
"Then I got this little one and saw the reef really sucking up in front of me," he continues. "I was too late. But already on, I had to go. It bottomed out, went all ledgy. I pig dogged and went straight over the falls thinking 'this is bad'. I fell head first with the lip. Then bang. Lights out."
"I hit head first. I don’t remember any of this, but I know I was badly rag dolled. Matt Allen told me later I went over the fall on the next wave as well."
"All I remember is laying face down in the water and not being able to move. Apparently there this thing called spinal shock. It can last up to a minute after a decent knock. This head injury had compressed my spine and back."
Luke sustained a deadly combination of injuries including two fractures to his cervical spine, four fractures in his thoracic spine, his T3 vertebrae crunched to 50 percent between T2 & T4, an orbital fracture and a large laceration to his head.
"Being temporarily paralysed isn’t such a big deal when you're on the land," says Luke. "You're just lying on the ground. But, while in the water, I remember there thinking ‘fuck, don’t suck in any water’. I couldn’t get my head or arms up… nothing was working. I have little memory of that impact. I pulled my head above the water. But couldn’t see anything. Blood pouring was out my head, just pissing into my eyes. Here's a little snap shot of it. It's sort of funny, but not funny.”
"As I came up I could see this guy, Matt Allen about 20 metres away. He started bolting over to me. I was struggling trying to hold onto my board. Matt helped me up like a little kid, I could not stay on my board. I was heavily concussed. Matt pushed me straight into a foam ball. Fortunately, when it’s low tide this wave goes all the way to the beach, It’s about 150 metres. It took me right to where the carpark is."
"At top of the rocks, there was this chick walking her dog. She just looked at me and started screaming. I was thinking ‘keep it to yourself!’ It was probably like a horror movie for her. So much blood. That didn’t do much for my confidence.”
"I put my hand up to my head and felt it go straight in. I thought I had cracked my skull and was touching my brain. This Irish physiotherapist named Eamon Molloy, who based himself at caravan to chase Tombies, rushed over to the car when I got out. Everyone was in shock and he didn’t know any of us. So no one was listening to him."
"After I was placed in the back seat of Matt’s Hilux. I realised there was something serious going on in my neck. I couldn’t move it. When you leave an injury for five to ten minutes, you go stiff. It was unbearable. Then it became so tough to breathe with all this pressure on my neck. I'm taking really short breathes, it was all I could manage."
"Matt started driving me towards the shop. I was coherent. I wanted to get some help and some pain killers. Maybe get my hands on the green whistle. A couple of my mates were still out in the surf, they didn’t even know it had happened. No one was at the shop. There were no supplies. Nothing."
"‘Fuck it. We need to get to The Homestead, hopefully they have first aid'. Then Eamon Molloy was back in the carpark discussing with his mate, “fuck these guys aren’t dealing with this properly. He’s really fucked up with a neck injury. I can’t leave it.' He drove down and cut us off. 'Okay, here's how we're going to handle this, he said. We arrived at Homestead to find out they didn't have any useful med supplies. It was mind blowing. Just the bare minimums in first aid. No pain killers. No stretcher. No neck brace. Again nothing."
"My mate who is a pilot was with me. RPS couldn’t fly into the air strip, so he raced ahead and readied the plane before we arrived. We were without a stretcher. Eamon and the guys searched and returned with a plank of wood from a shed in their hands. It was incredible. They placed the plank down, rolled me onto my side, held my neck the whole time and tied me to it with surfboard straps. That was the first moment I had felt secure."
"In the six seater plane, the boys went and ripped out all the seats. We flew to Carnarvon, which took 25 minutes as opposed to a two and a half hour car trip. That trip would have been brutal without any pain killers. It's corrugated the entire way. Hell, it probably would have messed me up further. Talking to RPS the whole time, aware I was landing at Carnarvon they were waiting with an ambulance."
"Doctors quickly realised I had many fractures and an issue in my neck. It was squishing on an artery to my brain. That was the biggest concern at that time, and I was like ‘fuck’. First worried about my head, then my neck, now worried about a blood clot!"
"I had amazing doctors, nurses and a team who looked after me. I can’t thank them enough. At the airport, I finally got the whistle. The doctors were impressed with the wood and tie down combo; they pulled away the towels placed 'round my neck to ensuring my head stay centred. The Morphine started kicking in. They cut my wetsuit off and the Royal Flying Doctors Service took me to Perth. I arrive at 4am on Monday. The next question was whether or not to operate. But, it turned out my back muscle's and ligaments were the reason my spine stayed together."
"I am counting my lucky stars. I sat in limbo for about four to five days. Now I have an X-ray every two weeks, check everything is ok. It'll be at least six months before I get back into the water. I will need to ease my way back into it. I'll get back out Gnaraloo though. It is just down the list of priorities for now. I probably won’t surf it on low tide again. First thing is hanging with my family."