Plenty of smiles, friendly greetings and well wishes welcomed Tasmania Police Inspector Darren Hopkins on his first day back at work since his near-death experience.
Inspector Hopkins returned to work in a part-time capacity on Tuesday, less than five months after crashing his light plane at Westwood.
"It is only two days a week, four hours a day and that’s just to see how I get back into the work environment," he said.
"We just do it gradually to make sure that mentally and physically you’re OK."
Inspector Hopkins is an avid pilot, flying all over Australia since he took up the hobby nine years ago, but his plane caught fire while on a regular leisure flight on October 21.
He was forced to jump from the burning plane.
"There’s no training for a cabin on fire, I had to make that up as I went along," he said.
"It was a horrible feeling knowing I was either going to crash because I couldn’t see out the windows because they all glazed over with the heat, or I was just going to burn in the cockpit before I got down."
Although there's no specific training for the situation Inspector Hopkins was in, his search and rescue training and instinct to survive kicked in once he was on the ground.
"I could see the skin hanging off my hand and I knew there was something seriously wrong with my leg because it was pure white," he said.
"It turned out I lost that when I rolled out of the plane, so it just took a level of skin completely off my leg.
"I knew that I had to get help, I knew that it was bad and that I didn’t have much time.
"The first thing I was after was water and lucky I found a water trough nearby. It was electrified at the time and had maggots in it but it worked."
Inspector Hopkins tried to get back into the cockpit to get his distress beacon and mobile phone, but it was too hot.
"I had to resort to the most basic form of help and it was to call out, fortunately it was heard by the Kilbys," he said.
Inspector Hopkins had landed on the Kilbys' farm and Toni - an emergency nurse at the Launceston General Hospital - and daughter Meg, 10 rushed to his rescue.
Harry, 13, also helped by directing emergency service crews to the scene.
About three weeks ago Inspector Hopkins had tea and scones with the Kilbys - Toni, Chris, Emily, 15, Harry and Meg - at their house.
"They had a significant role in saving my life. Yes, I played a part in relation to getting out of the aircraft and getting wet and cooling the burns down, but if they hadn’t been there I don’t know how far I would’ve had to go to find help," he said.
"Being able to talk and hear the perspective of others - where they were and what they did - has been part of the healing process for me, it’s been good."
During the visit with the Kilbys, Inspector Hopkins also went to the crash site for the first time.
"That was a surreal experience as well, just being back there and picking up parts of the plane left strewn across the paddock and just getting perspective of where things were, so all that helps to remember," he said.
Inspector Hopkins spent 11 days in an induced coma in the Royal Hobart Hospital.
It wasn't until a conversation with his plastic surgery team and clinical nurses that Inspector Hopkins realised the extent of his injuries, with burns to both hands, all of his right arm and both legs.
"The pain management day-to-day is difficult. I’ve used the quote: 'it’s hard work being sick', because you’ve got appointments, physio, medical terms, acute pain teams and there’s a fair bit you’ve got to do every day just to keep well."
Inspector Hopkins' recovery is still expected to take anywhere from 12 months to two years.
"I know I’m very lucky to be here. I should’ve died and that is difficult to come to terms with," he said.
The northern inspector was cleared to return to work by his doctors in Hobart about two weeks ago.
"I asked for more but they wouldn’t give it to me, but it is probably a good thing to put the brakes on me a little bit," he said.
The inspector said he was humbled by the support and well wishes he'd received since the plane crash.
"I’m really humbled by the level of interest by members of public that I know and especially those I don’t," Inspector Hopkins said.
Regular visits from colleagues helped the inspector throughout his recovery process and that was evident on his first day back.
"A lot of it has just been catching up with people and talking about what happened and what I’ve got planned for the future so that’s nice," he said.
"It is good to be back. I wish I could be back in my former role, which is in charge of the Launceston division, but I know I’ve got to take time to get back into work and it is not a role I can do part time."
Inspector Hopkins joked about having issues with typing on his first day back because the tip of his right ring finger was amputated after the crash.
"The only issue I find at work is I’m a bit of a touch typist and I go to hit the 'o' but I keep missing and wonder why, it’s because the tip isn’t there to hit it, so I’ve got to get used to that," he said.