Sunday, July 28, 2013

A magnificent man in his flying machine

A game of physical challenge: Glenn Todhunter, a double amputee, flies for the Royal Flying Doctor Service from Launceston Airport. 
Photo Credit: Scott Gelston

Former army pilot Glenn Todhunter lay in the wreck of his crashed plane, bleeding from his legs. He looked down and saw his feet were an unrecognizable mass of blood and tissue. 

He saw fuel leaking from the plane and, trying to pull himself from his seat, felt a ''tearing sensation''. He believes that was his left foot. Both his legs were amputated to the knee.

Determined to fly again, Mr Todhunter, a former major in the army, spent eight years training to reclaim his licence and went on to become the first disabled aviator to fly with the Australian Defence Force.

Eighteen years later, the 44-year-old has become the first double amputee to fly for the Royal Flying Doctor Service.''I know what it is like to be down the back of a plane as a patient and now that I get to be a pilot and help save other people's lives means a great deal to me,'' Mr Todhunter said.

''Life has been very, very good to me since the accident and I have always been looking for ways to give something back,'' he said.

He joined the army in 1989 and became a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, flying in

Cambodia as part of the peace-keeping mission after the fall of Pol Pot. But in 1995, when he was 26, he was flying a light plane in Townsville during the last hours of his instructor's course.

Flying too low, he went into what he believed was wind shear - a rapid change of wind direction and speed. The plane flipped and fell 200 feet to the ground. He blacked out and woke to find his colleague Jeff Britten unconscious.

He realised his legs were trapped. ''I looked down and I could see my right knee was bent 180 degrees around to my groin and I could see I was losing a lot of blood,'' Mr Todhunter said. ''My feet weren't recognisable. They were just a mass of tissue because they had been driven into the ground.''

He pulled himself from the wreckage and clawed at the ground to get away from the plane, which he feared would catch fire. ''I crawled for 10 metres, screaming and losing a lot of blood.''

His army training kicked in. He used his belt to pull himself into the recovery position, knowing death could come quickly if he vomited after blacking out.

His instructor, Mr Britten, pulled himself out of the wreckage despite severe injuries, and took 3½ hours to crawl one kilometre to a phone. Both were flown to Townsville Hospital, where Mr Todhunter spent three days in intensive care.

His girlfriend, Michelle, who is now his wife, told him he had lost both legs but promised she would help him to fly again.

Mr Todhunter requalified as an army helicopter pilot in 1999 and went on to fly Beechcraft King Air aircraft in 2002. Since May he has worked from the RFDS base at Launceston Airport.

''I struggled with my identity for a long time but I didn't want to let the accident define who I was,'' he said. ''I don't think of myself as being disabled. I like to say I am playing a game of physical challenge.''

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