It is Saturday 16 September 2017. Bjørn Yngve Hernæs (62) from Ranheim invites his two sons – Martin (35) and Erlend (31) – and daughter-in-law Marte (31) on a surprise trip.
They get into the car. Only Bjørn knows where they are going and what they are going to do.
When the car stops, they are at the entrance to the Munkstigen outside Trondheim, a popular path for hikers and mountain climbers. No one in the party is particularly used to hiking, but the whole gang nevertheless joins in what they think will be a pleasant family outing in the mountains.
– The atmosphere is very good, dad is in good shape, and the humor is in place, says Erlend i The TV 2 documentary series Reddetwhich gives an insight into the rescue helicopter service in Norway.
The family starts the mountain hike. After walking for a while, they arrive at a sign on the trail that says “angresti”.
– If there’s one place you can turn around, it’s here. If you continue, you have to complete the whole trail, says Erlend.
They continue. And slowly but surely it gets steeper and steeper.
– It feels as if the rock walls are vertical. It’s quite a wild experience. We pull ourselves up. It’s a bit like Cliffhanger, Erlend says with a laugh, referring to the 1993 thriller with Sylvester Stallone.
Then the nightmare begins.
– We see that dad sits down. I immediately get such a nasty feeling. There is something not right, says Erlend.
Bjørn has severe pain in his chest. He is pale, clammy and cold. The sons struggle to make eye contact with him.
– His form is gradually getting worse, and he is getting more and more worried.
Erlend and Martin call the emergency number 113.
At the 330 Squadron of the Rescue Helicopter Service, they have just had a routine exercise on cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and they suspect – based on the information the sons continuously give the emergency operator – that it is a heart attack.
The helicopter takes off from Ørland in Trøndelag, heading towards Munkstigen.
On the edge of the mountain it is very dramatic. Bjørn’s condition worsens, and the sons fear that he will not survive.
– And then we got to a point where he disappeared from us. The eyes rolled back and it was obvious that this would end in death, says Erlend.
They scout for the helicopter. Time passes slowly. Seconds feel like minutes.
– Dad just gets worse and worse. I look out, straight towards St. Olav’s. I don’t see any helicopter, although they say they have taken off and are on their way. We have not yet realized that the helicopter does not take off from Trondheim. It was like an eternity, says Erlend.
The helicopter trip from Ørland to Munkstigen takes just 13 minutes, thanks to tailwinds. During the trip, the helicopter personnel are updated on the situation, and the more the sons describe the progression to their father, the more convinced they become that it is a heart attack.
The rescue operation
Lasse, Erlend and Marte now see the helicopter and wave their hands to signal.
The helicopter hovers above them. It is impossible to land, so a man in the rescue personnel is lowered into a cable.
The sight that meets the rescuer is an unconscious Bjørn with a blue face. The rescuer piles Bjørn onto his feet and holds him close. Then they are hoisted together into the helicopter.
The brothers and Marte are left standing on the mountain ledge and watch Bjørn whiz through the air, on his way into the helicopter. They fear this is the last time they will see him.
– It was tough, says Erlend.
– To see dad hanging in the air like that. I felt that “now I will not see him again”.
From the helicopter arrived at Munkstigen – until Bjørn was taken out – it took four or five minutes. Valuable minutes. Bjørn is not breathing, and everyone on board is fully aware that the brain cells are destroyed without oxygen. The most important thing now is to get Bjørn’s blood circulation going, and to get to St. Olav’s hospital in Trondheim as quickly as possible.
After the helicopter door is closed, resuscitation begins with cardiac compression. The tailwind once again helps the helicopter fly faster.
The defibrillator is switched on, and Bjørn receives an electric shock in the hope that the heart will start pumping blood again. The shock produces no pulse. Then another shock. Still no pulse. Even the third electric shock does not produce the result everyone hopes for. Bjørn is still lifeless.
After five minutes in the air with electric shocks and heart compressions, the ambulance helicopter lands at St. Olavs. On the way into reception, Bjørn receives a fourth electric shock with the defibrillator. That does the trick. The heart beats and Bjørn has a pulse again.
From the helicopter taking off from Ørland to the landing on St. Olavs with Bjørn, 25 minutes have passed.
Fortunately, everything went well with Bjørn. According to himself, he is 95 percent back to where he was before the heart attack in 2017.
The near-death experience has left its mark on him.
– We have this life for a limited time, and we have to enjoy ourselves and live with it. I am happy to be alive, says Bjørn.
The sons are naturally also happy that their dad survived, and the experience has made the family bond even closer.
– I think we have changed for the better. That we enjoy everyday life more. And now we always have something to talk about around the dinner table, says Erlend and laughs.
How to do cardiac compression
Cardiac compression is performed with straight arms and using the weight from the upper body. The depth of compression depends on body size, but some force must be used. This is physically demanding and requires good technique.
- Kneel next to the patient’s arm.
- Place your hands on top of each other on your sternum, in the middle between your nipples. The lower hand should press against the sternum, not a flat hand.
- Press straight down and release again (red arrows). Relatively hard pressure is required.
- Press 30 times in rapid succession. Count out loud.
- Then 2 inhalations before 30 new pressures. Keep doing this.