IT WAS a freak accident in Sunday’s Southern 80 racing — at 170km/h — with one skier bouncing off a stick into the water and cannoning into his team-mate alongside him.
The high-speed impact, between Perricoota Station and Deep Creek Marina, sent them cartwheeling along the river surface for about 50m before they slowed enough to sink into the water.
Speaking yesterday from his hospital bed Carlton Dry skier Nathan Evans said he didn’t see the stick coming and once he hit it there was nothing he could do to avoid hitting Jason Cartledge.
Today the pair are sharing a room in Echuca hospital’s high dependency unit before Cartledge, 40, is transferred to Melbourne for specialist treatment of his broken back, which showed up in scans.
He said he needs a specialist to assess the extent of the damage.
Evans, 23, is still waiting on results about nerve problems in his right arm following the injury to his neck and shoulder.
Incredibly the pair are already planning their return to the river and to skiing — as fast as they can go.
There were plenty of jokes being thrown around their hospital room about the young duck and the old duck, the veteran and the spring chicken, sharing a bond forged by years of skiing together.
Evans has done the past seven S80s and Cartledge started when he was five.
In 2016 the pair finished second with Carlton Dry in the 8 litre expert class.
But no one could have foreseen the outcome of this year’s race on Sunday which brought the team’s run to an abrupt end.
‘‘I don’t even remember seeing it,’’ Evans said.
‘‘Everyone said as I’ve hit it (the stick) my ski has gone to the left and taken out Jason.
‘‘And then we were both just rolling head over heels down the water.’’
Cartledge said he saw the ski coming across and his main concern at the time was to protect his shoulder, which he had injured in a previous skiing accident, and wait until the tumbling had stopped.
The team’s observer Robert Bertram leapt into the water to assist Evans and held him up while they made their way to the bank.
Driver Darren Laub had driven back to collect Cartledge, who was swimming to get the skis and helmet which had been thrown off Evans.
‘‘People watching from the side said it looked like a bomb had gone off,’’ Evans said.
‘‘Luckily there were two fire brigade guys there who knew what they were doing and they made sure my neck was supported and took me out of the water a little bit so I wasn’t it in.
‘‘We then waited for the ambulance, which came pretty quickly, and they got us both out of the water and into the ambulance and within an hour of the crash we were at Echuca hospital.’’
Both agreed the hardest part was getting messages to family and friends to let them know they were okay, which Cartledge said was difficult to do unless you were actually there.
Evans had around 90 messages from family and friends by the time he got to his phone later that night and was quick to let everyone know through social media he was okay.
‘‘The driver got onto our immediate families almost straight away to let them know we were okay,’’ Cartledge said.
‘‘My biggest concern was the crash wouldn’t impact my kids (Leilani, 10 and Kohdi, 9), who both skied in the under 10s, and I didn’t want them to want to quit because of it.
‘‘Everyone always says to me ‘you’re 40, why are you still doing it?’, but it’s an addiction.
‘‘I want to be back skiing next year in the veterans with my dad (Noel) and hopefully ski with my own kids one day.’’
Cartledge had previously taken out the Baker’s Blitz behind Moon Shot in 2001 and said the only thing to stop him skiing now would be when he couldn’t stand any more.
‘‘It’s a real family sport which everyone can do together, whether it’s skiing, driving or observing,’’ he said.
‘‘You don’t have to go as extreme as what we do, just do it socially, and it helps to keep the kids out of trouble.’’
Evans added those who choose to race know the risks and he looked forward to getting back out on the water.
‘‘Never once were we unsafe,’’ Evans said.
‘‘It was just a fluke thing where something got in the way and caused this to happen.
‘‘No one wants to live too far off the edge, but at the same time we love what we do and we know the risk of it all; unfortunately here we learnt some of those are big risks.’’