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Darren Hopcraft

North West

Interview with Darren Hopcraft - combine harvester accident. To view this media, please turn on Javascript.

Video Transcript

I worked for a company for about 10 years.

Up to the age of 25 I think I were and then I decided to go self employed.

The downside was that 6 months after that I lost my arm in a bad accident.

On this particular farm that I was actually contracting at was well renowned for being wet on the soil so basically we started having problems with the forage harvester then ie blocking up with soil and grass.

So that's when I've basically lost my arm when I'm cleaning the machine out unaware that the rotors were still slowing down, the machine was actually turned off.

So I was a bit unaware as there was noise of other machines running around me and as I cleared the rest of the blockage out.

Need I say any more.

During the momentum of everything I remember being pulled in and fortunately for a panel that were there it actually stopped me from going right into the machine.

Basically it stopped me by my elbow there and I remember like in a daze thinking oh you know something's seriously gone wrong.

I can remember getting to the hospital but I don't remember any travelling time as such because I think I just passed out.

The consultant who was sort of taking care of me doing the x-rays he came to me and said right you've got a 65% chance if we sew your arm back on that you'll keep it and I said unfortunately it's not good enough for me.

The percentages were too far out and that decision there and then was like well I'm here now I've no arm I've got to make the most of what I've got.

They wouldn't actually fit me a prosthetic arm for 6 months so I done 6 months just learning to live without it then all of a sudden I've got this what I would call an extension now and it took me a good 12 months to get used to it.

But now I've got used to it some of the attachments that they sent to be honest they couldn't keep up with the workload that I actually gave them I ended up breaking most of them within the first 8 months.

Me being me I attempted to make some of my own tools.

My favourite one is the hook because it's easy to use and it's there all the time such as like I made my own pliers and sockets, extension bars and things for holding nuts and bolts when I'm tightening them up.

But in other ways I've struggled quite a lot.

Mentally wise and physically wise.

Owning my own mechanicing business everything suddenly went 3 times longer and having to learn from the start including handwriting was a big issue and I've never actually fully managed to write properly since.

The other side of it was people it's going out into public, people looking at you that's the biggest problem you know.

For the first 6 months it was people coming up to me saying oh you're that idiot who lost your arm in a machine.

I'm like I'm trying to come to terms with it you know.

Because I'm such a physical working lad my work expectancy has dropped by about 15 years I will say.

Luckily for me I've another friend who's a contractor and they gave me a job in sort of December somewhere around there just to get myself back in the mainstream again.

But for the first sort of 6 or 8 weeks I would not let anybody near that machine bar me because I dread to think that anybody else will go through the same life changing experience that I've had to go through it sounds daft but you know be aware because they are dangerous.

Basically such as young lads there's always 16 to 21/22 years olds right eager always wanting to jump in feet first.

What I would call now in terms of isolation is basically you stop the cutterhead, completely switch them off, turn the engine off on the machine, take the keys out so nobody can get in and start the machine up while you're in there.

Basically you need to wait for at least 2 minutes to just identify that the machine has actually slowed down and stopped turning before you actually start removing any panels.

It had been a long frustrating day on the farm at Bolton by Bowland and once again the forage harvester agricultural engineer Darren Hopcraft was operating had another blockage. This time it would have horrific consequences.

"Unfortunately there had been problems all day with the harvester blocking. It was about 7pm and frustration was setting in. I jumped into the back of the machine and saw some waste material that needed clearing. I did everything as I had before - I switched off the machine, went to the inspection chamber, lifted the door, removed the inspection plate and cleared the blockage. I returned to the cab, turned the blower on and blew out the soft earth then switched off the blower and machine. I spent the next few minutes talking with the farmer to allow the blower mechanism to run down and stop. Once I thought it had stopped I returned to the inspection chamber" Darren recalls.

However, there was a tractor running alongside the harvester and this might account for Darren having been unable to hear any sound coming from the blower mechanism. "I put my hand into the area of serrated blades at the base of the blower but they hadn’t completely stopped, they grabbed hold of my fingers, next minute part of my arm below the elbow. I could’ve lost my arm all the way up to the shoulder. It was just torn right off. It all happened so quickly and it’s all a little hazy – but I remember seeing my hand go and then part of my arm and knowing that if I didn’t act quickly it would be up to my shoulder. I remember thinking I’m still alive, I have to get out of here. I jumped out of the chamber and the farmer who was now down the field heard me screaming. I don’t recall screaming – but I’ll never forget the look of horror on his face."

"I checked my arm to see if I was weeping blood, there was no blood and the nerve endings were still attached. I kept my arm covered to ensure no diesel got into it to keep it clean. I remember getting my phone from the cab and calling my girlfriend and matter of factly telling her I was going to hospital, and I also called my mother."

Someone had phoned for an ambulance. However, when the first ambulance arrived they had no stretcher so an air ambulance was called. This also arrived with no stretcher. It was 40 minutes before the air ambulance was able to take off and head for the hospital – and then only because Darren, still waiting for a stretcher to arrive, took matters into his own hands and climbed onto the helicopter. At this point he lost consciousness. "I remember taking off and then landing, but nothing in between," he recalls.

"My first instinct was to be strong for my family, who were devastated for me. My father had flown to Tenerife that morning and he wanted to fly straight back home, but I told him there was nothing he could do, I was OK, and to enjoy his holiday. I didn’t want to show any emotions in front of anyone, I had to maintain a hardness and edge to keep myself going."

"I spent the next week in hospital. I underwent two operations one to clean the arm and the second for skin grafting. Because I’d torn all sorts of ligaments in my arm I was told it would be a good 12 months before I’d be ready to return to work."

Updated: 2013-03-19