Volunteer Mick Lanagan and his ambulance provide a much-needed lifeline on a lonely stretch of Western Australian highway.

Story By Sue Williams

The scene was one of utter carnage. With crumpled bodies lying over the road and verge, the smashed-up hull of a ute gently smoking in a culvert and pools of blood seeping into the red dust, Mick Lanagan went, without hesitation, straight to work.
He raced from casualty to casualty, assessing injuries and working out whose lives he could save and who was just too far gone. The ute had been crowded with people, both front and back, and, driven by an unlicensed minor, had careened off the road and rolled, flinging passengers in every direction. Many were either unconscious or writhing in agony. Even as he was calling on the satellite phone for back-up, Mick knew, 270 kilometres south of Broome on Western Australia’s Great Northern Highway, it could be a hell of a long time before any other help arrived. Calmly and efficiently, he administered emergency first aid to those he knew stood a chance, tried to stop their bleeding, bandaged their injuries, placed them on their sides and soothed the panicky.
“You have to be a little bit hard sometimes to do triage,” he says. “But you’ve got to concentrate on where you can make a difference.” In this case, the volunteer medical worker knew his work could prove critical.
By the time Mick took a breath to look up, five ambulances had arrived at the scene. A Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) plane had landed on a local airstrip, since it was too windy to attempt to put down on the road, and was ready to airlift patients to Perth.
By then, Mick had been working for a couple of hours in the blistering sun in 47-degree Celsius heat. “I’d started to feel ill myself, but I hadn’t been able to stop,” says Mick, who is diabetic and has chronic back problems. “But with others on the scene, I slumped down in the shade and a young paramedic came over and said I looked like I should eat something.

This story excerpt is from Issue #74

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2011