Lucky to be Alive.

Owen Zupp. Intensive Care Ambulance.

Lucky to be Alive.

Recently, my wife and I sat in the front row as Wendy Matthews captivated the audience with her songs from the 1990s. As music is prone to do, her words cast me back to a time in my life that is more than three decades in the past, when I last crowded into a downstairs bar and Wendy was on centre-stage. My father had recently died and I was seeking distraction with my mate from school, Pete. Little did we know that Pete would also pass away so soon.

Later that night, my train of thought subsequently whistle-stopped through the intervening years, Faces came and went, all of them no longer with us and all were gone far too young. Many perished pursuing their passion of flight, while others had succumbed to a range of insidious diseases. And yet, I am still here?

The recent detection of my own health issue and corrective surgery has hopefully kept me one step ahead of the inevitable for a little longer. And still, I can’t help but wonder why I have been so fortunate, while others have been taken so young. In midst of this contemplation, I recalled so many events which could have ended so differently.

As a young man I had been in my vehicle, stationary at a red light in the wee hours of Saturday morning when two other vehicles collided at high speed. In my mind’s eye I can see one of the cars tumbling towards me before it mounted my bonnet, finally coming to rest on my windscreen. Close call but unscathed – As an off-duty Ambo, I crawled from my vehicle to begrudgingly treat the occupants of the vehicle that was now intertwined with my own.

On duty, I had been in the passenger seat of an Intensive Care ambulance as Wilko and I headed back to Bankstown Station after a night relieving at Campsie Station. As we made the right hand turn, an oncoming vehicle came over the crest at such a speed it was verging on being airborne. The Toyota Celica was aimed directly at me when Wilko hit the accelerator and surged Car 975 far enough forward that the Celica penetrated the ambulance just behind my seat. Fortunately, neither patient nor paramedic were in the back as the fibreglass shattered and we were thrust onto two wheels and hurled down the road, narrowly missing telegraph poles. I can still see the 1600-litre “D Cell” oxygen cylinder ripped from its mountings and tumbling along the road ahead of us. Wilko’s actions most likely saved me. My only injury was a lacerated leg when I had been thrown forward and my shin struck the bracket where we stowed our case folder. Close call and unscathed again.

Owen Zupp. Cessna Engine Failure.


I have had engine shutdowns in aircraft over the years, wheels that wouldn’t lock down and even smoke in the cockpit. I have had a cylinder seperate from my single engine over crocodile-infested waters but I was able to limp the aircraft back to Kununurra. There have also been other near-misses. Still, I wouldn’t describe any of these as life-threatening. By contrast, while instructing a trainee pilot, an engine failure over the rugged terrain of the Great Dividing Range forced me to glide the disabled aircraft into a less than ideal clearing. As the sun set and the night turned cold, a helicopter arrived to airlift us back to Westmead Hospital. Another close call but unscathed yet again.

So when my annual pilot’s medical in 2022 led to major surgery, it seemed like yet another close thing, should the condition have gone undetected. This forced me to make a cursory count that revealed more than thirty names of those I have known that have perished in aircraft and single digits for my closest of friends and father who left all too soon for other reasons.

That night the lyrics of Wendy Matthew’s’ song, “The Day You Went Away” echoed in my head and I thought of all of those that have gone before me. I have lived long enough to have a gorgeous girl by my side, four great kids and pursued my passion for flight for more than forty years. Have I had a guardian angel watching over me, a higher power at work, or dumb luck? I have no idea. All I know is what I have learned as an Ambo, an aviator and a fortunate soul. Life is fragile and fleeting. It isn’t a dress rehearsal, squeeze every drop out of it.

After all, we are all lucky to be alive.

Wendy Matthews. Day you went away.