A DONAGHADEE man is lucky to be alive after he survived a double cattle stampede on a 6,000ft Austrian mountain. Tour operator Alan Couser sustained a litany of horrific injuries when a herd of stampeding cattle trampled on him not once, but twice, in a mountainside attack.

The 66 year-old had been leading a tour of 16 people around Zell am See, in Austria, when he was knocked to the ground and trampled on by the cattle, leaving all but two or three of his ribs broken. Airlifted to hospital by an air ambulance, Alan was rushed to the operating theatre with two collapsed lungs, a broken leg, a dislocated ankle, a damaged breastbone, possible minor spine fracture, a cracked cheekbone and one of his teeth had been knocked out.

Suffering with multiple lacerations and bruises, Alan would remain in intensive care for two days before he was able to be transferred to a main ward for a further 10 days and later transported back to Northern Ireland by air ambulance, accompanied by a doctor and a nurse. Alan admitted he was afraid he would die during the stampede. “I feared this was the end, especially when they came back a second time. I did think it was the end but I had the presence of mind to put my elbows over my head.” Thanks to the swift actions of his wife and ‘hero’ Ann, the emergency air ambulance helicopter team arrived within 15 minutes and corrected his dislocated ankle immediately.

Within minutes he was flown to the ‘beyond wonderful’ staff at Tauern Klinikum in Zell am See hospital where he received treatment that undoubtedly saved his life. The local man has been offering escorted tours to Europe and the Middle East for 40 years and had been giving a 16-strong group a tour of Austria when his life-threatening attack took place earlier in July.

Now recuperating at home, Alan has chosen to speak out about his stampede ordeal in a bid to ensure fellow travellers have the correct insurance cover before heading abroad. Had Alan not been insured he explained he would be facing bills costing a ‘small fortune’ including 4,000 euros for his emergency helicopter rescue and over 30,000 euros for air ambulance transport, including accompaniment by a doctor and nurse back to Belfast and transport to Salzburg airport.

 He explained there were also additional hospital charges and the extra 12 nights hotel stay for his wife Ann to be added on to the total bill. Said Alan: “A lot of the medical bills came under private so it would have been a lot of money and most people don’t have that money.” With the number of people travelling abroad on the rise after the Covid-19 pandemic, Alan urged people to make sure they had full medical cover. He said: “There are still a lot of people going off on autumn holidays and I just want to stress how important it is to take out insurance. “It is so important that you take out the insurance when you book the holiday and not to wait until two days before. If you take it out at the same time this will cover you for any cancellations.” Alan was full of praise for the medical treatment he received and was fortunately fully insured. “Where we were walking is well known for hiking and winter ski-ing so the hospital was well equipped for mountain injuries,” he said. “I could not have been in a better hospital, everything worked like clockwork.

The emergency helicopter arrived within 15 to 20 minutes and within a few minutes I was in hospital.” Time was clearly of the essence and such was the gravity of Alan’s injuries he was on the operating table within minutes of arriving at the hospital. He said: “When I arrived at hospital I was whisked straight in for assessment and on to the operating theatre, there was no hanging around, I had scans, ultrasounds, everything.” Twelve days later Alan was transported home by air ambulance and has described his recovery as ‘slow’. His leg is healing well but he has been advised his ribs will continue to be painful for another two months.

Despite his ordeal, Alan is determined to keep doing the job he loves saying: “I have no plans to retire, it is a job I love doing. I will retire when I can’t work anymore.” Looking to the future, he said: “I am among the lucky people to have survived. It is behind me and there is still plenty of life in front of me.”