Rescue as man left hanging from tree by broken leg

James Spillane hangs with a broken leg after being hit by a falling bough when cutting branches
James Spillane hangs with a broken leg after being hit by a falling bough when cutting branches

The life-saving rescue of a man left hanging upside-down from a tree 20 feet above the ground by his severely broken leg has been captured by RTÉ’s flagship rescue series.

Corkman James Spillane was cutting branches up a tree when he was hit by a falling bough breaking his thigh bone and leaving him trapped in agony in the branches.

In Ireland’s Search and Rescue, Dr Jason Van Der Velde, from West Cork Rapid Response, said the casualty was in real danger while hanging from the tree by his injured leg in his garden in Ovens, Co Cork.

He said: “It’s very, very dangerous and life-threatening to be trapped in a head down position.

“He was very precarious where he was. The branch could have gone at any moment.”

Dr Van Der Velde told how he scaled the tree to assess the extent of the damage to the victim’s leg.

“The first step was to free his leg from the tree. His entire thigh bone was in two pieces. We had to secure him even more in the tree so he wasn’t going to fall and even if he did fall there was someone under him.”

The medics had to work rapidly to get his leg free as there was a risk of blood clotting and internal bleeding.

“Most of the lifesaving work was done by the people first on the scene who got him sitting on to a very small branch to support his weight and wound rope around him to hold him in a horizontal position as opposed to head-down,” said Dr Van Der Velde. “It was quite a big incident and quite an unusual incident.”

The fire brigade and a team of medics worked to get the man down by transferring him into the bucket of a tractor.

James, who spent a month in hospital, told the series: “When I went to move after the branch hitting me and pinning me to the tree I realised with the pain I couldn’t move my leg.

“I also realised that the angle my foot was at was completely out of line with the rest of my leg so there had to be something broken and any bit of movement was unbelievably painful. If I did go to fall I would have been hanging by my broken leg. I was in hospital for 32 days because during my recovery I developed a clot and when they went to dislodge the clot I got internal bleeding.

“Shortly, I will be losing the crutches and then hopefully I’ll be back to normal.”

* Ireland’s Search and Rescue airs tonight on RTÉ One at 8.30pm.

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