Canterbury wedding helicopter crash: Northland photographer Rachel Jordan’s recovery

By Jenny Ling of NZ Herald

Photographer Rachel Jordan

Northland photographer Rachel Jordan is back doing what she loves following the devastating helicopter crash – taking wedding and portrait photos.
Photo: NZ Herald / Jenny Ling

Northland wedding and portrait photographer Rachel Jordan has spoken of the immense challenges she’s had to overcome following a devastating helicopter crash in 2021 that changed her life.

Two-and-a-half years after the Robinson R44 lost power moments after take-off and plummeted 100 metres to the ground with Jordan, pilot Lynda Harrap, and newlywed couple Fay El Hanafy and Mahdi Zougub on board, Jordan still has problems with her feet, weakness in her hips, and will probably always have back pain.

Despite the severity of her injuries sustained on the Terrace Downs Resort golf course in Mid Canterbury in June 2021, the 44-year-old Kerikeri mum battles every day to overcome them.

Of them all – the fractured ribs and sternum, the lacerated lung, the broken right wrist and fractured bones in her feet and ankles – the worst was the damage to her back and spinal cord.

The back injury caused varying degrees of paralysis in her legs which was frightening, as no one could tell her when, or if, she would walk again.

The crash happened after takeoff, Civil Aviation Authority said.

The helicopter soon after the crash.
Photo: SUPPLIED/ Stuff – John Kirk-Anderson

Jordan admitted she’s not the same person anymore.

“Going through this healing journey has definitely changed me; I’m not the same person I used to be. You can’t be the same person.

“You’re trapped in your body, you don’t know what the outcome will be.

“You wonder if you can walk again and how your body will react.

“It’s the most frustrating thing ever, you have to take one day at a time.”

But if anyone can make a full recovery, it is Jordan.

Even early on, after stints in Christchurch Hospital and Middlemore Hospital in Auckland, she worked incredibly hard to get back on her feet.

Three months after the crash, she took her first steps and left the spinal rehabilitation unit with the aid of a walking frame rather than a wheelchair.

Jordan had physiotherapy four times a week for two years after the crash, and keeps up her daily exercises in her home gym.

Photographer Rachel Jordan

Rachel Jordan, pictured in her home gym, has worked hard to learn to walk again following her injuries.
Photo: NZ Herald / Jenny Ling

“I just did what I needed every day. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but I just hoped for the best.

“It’s the not knowing. That’s the hardest part with spinal cord injuries. I would consider myself one of the lucky ones, 100 percent.”

Setting and achieving small goals and staying positive have been key to Jordan’s gains, which have come slowly but surely.

It took 18 months for her to lift her leg while lying on her side.

“It takes a long time to get functionality back. I have to work on it every day, I keep seeing gains, so I keep getting better and better.”

Jordan can now walk unassisted on the flat, though on uneven surfaces she still needs to use canes for extra support.

Photographer Rachel Jordan and son Evan

Rachel and her son Evan have been camping a lot this summer.
Photo: NZ Herald / Jenny Ling

She can get around fine in her beloved garden, tending the vegetables and fruit trees.

The garden has been a really good motivator to get outside, she said.

Jordan’s fine art photography work has had to adapt too.

The award-winning photographer returned to work last year, shooting three weddings with the aid of an assistant.

As well as her wedding photography business Two Little Starfish, she is shooting creative portraits again from her new home studio. Jordan is also sewing whimsical gowns for some of the maternity photo shoots.

“I’m blessed, I’m stoked my body has been able to recover.

“I’ll never be where I was, I’ll never be able to work to the capacity I did. I take on less, but my work is better, I’m not overrunning myself.’

She said she has felt a shift in the way she captures weddings.

“A lot of photographers rush around at weddings … they try to be everywhere at once, but they miss some magic moments.

“I can see more when I’m still.”

Jordan, Fay El Hanafy and Mahdi Zougub have filed a personal injury lawsuit in the US against Robinson Helicopter Company and several aircraft parts manufacturers.

The trio are seeking damages following the June 2021 crash.

The Civil Aviation Authority is still investigating.

This story was first published by the NZ Herald.

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