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Sunday 18 February 2018

Irish woman left with shattered arm and severe chemical burns in Africa helicopter crash

Lynn Clifford from Swords who was injured in a helicopter crash in Malawi
Lynn Clifford from Swords who was injured in a helicopter crash in Malawi
Conor Feehan

Conor Feehan

A Dublin woman has spoken of her near-death experience after being seriously injured in a helicopter crash in Africa.

Lynn Clifford, from Swords, was left with a shattered arm and severe chemical burns all over her body after the aircraft she was in developed a mechanical fault and fell from the sky.

She had been on a mission to monitor a herd of elephants after three were found dead on the reserve in Malawi that the Wildlife Action Group she works with protects.

Part of her work involves monitoring poachers armed with guns, who hunt the elephants for their ivory.

Helicopter wreckage which left Lynn Clifford from Swords injurued after crash in Malawi
Helicopter wreckage which left Lynn Clifford from Swords injurued after crash in Malawi

Lynn described the events of September 30, the day she came close to being killed.

"I came back from holiday in Ireland to find out that we had been hit with some elephant poaching," she told the Herald.

"We found three dead elephants in the reserve so I decided to do an aerial patrol to see if we could find poachers and also see if there were any more dead elephants.

"The place is over 500 sq km. As I sat in the small gyrocopter aircraft before take-off I prayed to my dead parents to keep me safe. It was very small and pretty scary sitting there on the ground.

"After about 90 minutes the craft lost power and the engine failed and we came down from 500 metres.

"We had just seen a herd of elephants and I asked if we could circle them so I could get some photos when the craft started to act up.

"The pilot said to me 'Lynn, I think we have a problem' and I said to him 'what kind of problem?'.

"He said 'it looks like we are going to go down', and I asked 'what should I do', and he said 'hold on', and then we started to plummet and I remember my arm flying out and hitting the trees.

"If it had been five minutes earlier the area we had covered had no network and we would have crashed into the cliff and died for sure.

"I regained consciousness and was trapped under the craft. I tried to move and felt liquid pouring over me. At first I thought it was blood but then realised it was fuel.

"I could see Derek the pilot close by and shouted for him to assist me. He was bleeding from the head and was very disorientated. He said his ankles were broken and I asked him to help me as I was scared of a fire or explosion.

"He very bravely dragged himself over to where I was and unwrapped my arm from the craft. It was broken and wrapped around the craft, so I was trapped. Once he did that I pulled myself out," Lynn said.

"He found the GPS and I found water and my bag, which had my phone.

"We started to text the scouts to give them our location, phoned, and waited two-and-a-half hours.

"The scouts were the first on the scene and helped with water and first aid, then Derek's family came with police and we were carried out and got to hospital some seven hours later," she said.

"I suffered multiple breaks to the arm, which has been pinned and plated, severe chemical burns all over my body and other bits and pieces. But I'm fine and recovering, and trying to get my arm moving again.

"The pilot, who is very skilled and a hero, did everything. He is in South Africa recovering from two shattered heels and it will take a long time to recover," said Lynn.

"Our dedicated anti-poaching team is trained, highly motivated, skilled and knowledgeable of the area and its wildlife, and are helping to reduce the poaching of elephants and other animals as well as protecting the land from deforestation.

"We are a small, focused and responsive conservation team that over the years has worked hard to protect, preserve and restore two forest reserves and the wildlife that lives there."

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