Trapped in a blackspot

After his vehicle flipped John McNeill had no way of calling for help.

Goobarragandra resident John McNeill was trapped in his overturned vehicle for more than an hour last week, after he was unable to call for help due to the area’s lack of mobile phone reception.

Mr McNeill was driving along his property where he had been spraying fences when he noticed a sinkhole in the paddock. Despite his best efforts to avoid it his ute slipped and rolled over, leaving Mr McNeill trapped and upside down with no way of contacting emergency services.

“I undid my seatbelt and turned my motor off and then I started to really get worried because the centre of gravity was facing down the hill – if I started rocking about it would have gone,” he said.

“I had no idea where the wheels were because I was upside down. I knew that at least two of the wheels were in the air, but as a matter of fact all four wheels were in the air.

“Eventually I worked out how I could get my hands around to slide the window open – it was getting very hot – and I was able to stick my head out the passenger side window.”

At that point, he had no other option but to wait for his wife, Shayne McNeill, to get home from work and call out to her.

Mrs McNeill told the Times it was sheer luck that she happened to be coming home that night.

“I pulled in and I couldn’t see him – and then I heard this yell – ‘Shayne, help!’ – and I looked up on the hill and saw him and I nearly died,” she said.

“I had to leave my vehicle up there and run home to ring up. The only reason I was home that day was because I’d been asked out to lunch the next day, otherwise I would have stayed in Wagga overnight. I work in Calvary Hospital, and it was just fortunate that I was coming home.”

In a Letter to the Editor published in Tuesday’s newspaper Mr McNeill expressed his gratitude to the emergency services personnel who arrived to free him.

However, the point remains that were it not for the good fortune of his wife returning home, Mr McNeill would have had no way of contacting emergency services in the first place.

This is actually the second time a lack of mobile coverage has put the McNeill’s lives at risk – a fire at their previous location at Eringoarrah Station two years ago left their property decimated and their possessions destroyed, after they were unable to contact emergency services when the fire burned through the landline.

They have had far too much first hand experience of the real impact a lack of phone coverage can have.

“It’s a real safety issue up here. It can be life and death,” Mrs McNeill said.

“In this day and age, it’s appalling. He would have been there for goodness knows how long [if she hadn’t shown up].”

Mr McNeill also said that the impacts of having no phone reception can be dire.

“I know it’s not a God-given right that we all have mobile communication, but there’s got to be people who have been worse off than I have that may have lost their lives,” he said.

“It’s a matter of deciding what the absolute bare minimums are that we’ll accept in health, education, and food – and then it comes to communication. In this day and age, surely everyone must have successful mobile coverage.”

The residents of Goobarragandra have long been pushing for a network tower in their area.

The former member for Eden-Monaro Peter Hendy announced in May that a new mobile base station would be built in the Tumut region, but more details are yet to be released. It has not been revealed which areas the new station would cover.  

The Coalition have said they will release more details by the end of 2016.

In the meantime, Shayne and John McNeill are thanking their lucky stars the emergency services staff were able to be contacted, and did an excellent job in resolving the situation safely.  

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