Com­mu­nity ser­vice con­tin­ues to ex­pand

Hauraki-Coromandel Post - - News -

In an ever-ex­pand­ing fleet of cen­tral North Is­land res­cue he­li­copters, the Waikato West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter has un­der­gone trans­for­ma­tional change, un­recog­nis­able from its hum­ble ori­gins in 1987.

Hamil­ton was once equipped solely with a Squir­rel he­li­copter ca­pa­ble of fly­ing only in day­light hours, two pi­lots with no place to call base, and a ten­nis court at a hos­pi­tal nurses’ home that served as a land­ing pad.

Charged with the enor­mous task of se­cur­ing spon­sor­ship and en­cour­ag­ing com­mu­nity sup­port, in­clud­ing fund­ing to build a han­gar and he­li­pad, it’s fair to say the fledg­ling ser­vice faced chal­lenges.

How­ever, with a small team of vol­un­teers, sup­port soon emerged.

“Be­ing as­so­ci­ated with the re­gion’s first and only com­mu­nity res­cue he­li­copter ser­vice ap­pealed to most busi­nesses and the com­mu­nity at large; it was a highly vis­i­ble cause to sup­port,” said found­ing pi­lot Grant Brem­ner.

“Trust­bank, who later be­came West­pac, came on board as foun­da­tion spon­sor and con­tinue as prin­ci­pal nam­ing rights spon­sor to­day.”

In 1995, the in­tro­duc­tion of the Bell 222 he­li­copter, with IFR (In­stru­ment Flight Rules) ca­pa­bil­ity, was a game-changer, en­abling pi­lots to nav­i­gate night mis­sions un­der in­stru­ment guid­ance, and in con­di­tions with lim­ited vis­i­bil­ity.

Hear­ing the un­mis­tak­able sound of the Bell 222‘s ap­proach over­head, day or night, to a res­cue from dense bush, road­side, river, moun­tain or sea was a re­lief for more than 10,000 peo­ple who owed their lives to the Waikato West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter air­lift­ing them to safety.

The life-sav­ing mis­sions of the crew in the Bell 222 ce­mented the res­cue he­li­copter’s place in the minds and hearts of the Waikato and King Coun­try com­mu­ni­ties. The res­cue he­li­copter is now a ful­lyfledged air emer­gency med­i­cal ser­vice.

Due to the grow­ing needs of the com­mu­nity, the trust scoured the global mar­ket for a he­li­copter to op­er­ate as a pri­mary ma­chine to work along­side the Bell he­li­copter that was now headed for a grace­ful re­tire­ment af­ter long and loyal ser­vice.

Fit­ted with sin­gle-pi­lot IFR, the cho­sen he­li­copter, the BK-117, was a per­fect fit for the three cur­rent pi­lots of the Waikato West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter, who had plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence with this fea­ture, rou­tinely op­er­at­ing with a sin­gle pi­lot un­der IFR con­di­tions for many years.

Pre­vi­ously based in Ho­niara, the winch-ca­pa­ble BK-117 had been used to sup­port Aus­tralian De­fence Force per­son­nel af­ter po­lit­i­cal un­rest in the Solomon Is­lands.

The he­li­copter was flown un­der its own power for more than 21 hours and 2117 nau­ti­cal miles, to ar­rive in New Zealand. It was fit­ted out with avion­ics to be res­cue-ready to serve the peo­ple of the Waikato, King Coun­try and Coro­man­del re­gions by 2013.

Ris­ing de­mand for the res­cue he­li­copter’s life-sav­ing ser­vice is ev­i­denced by its sub­stan­tial in­crease in mis­sion num­bers, in­clud­ing the full-sup­port cov­er­age it gives to the wider Coro­man­del Penin­sula.

Log­ging a record-break­ing to­tal of over 100 po­ten­tially life-sav­ing mis­sions in two con­sec­u­tive months in 2020 alone, the Waikato West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter has touched

the lives of more than 14,063 pa­tients since in­cep­tion.

What be­gan with one pi­lot more than three decades ago is now op­er­at­ing with a flight work­force of 20, con­sist­ing of pi­lots, crew­men and in-house In­ten­sive Care Paramedics, (ICPS); the ad­di­tion of the lat­ter en­abling life-trans­form­ing med­i­cal treat­ment out­comes and dra­mat­i­cally re­duced re­sponse times.

The pur­chase in 2019 of a sec­ond BK-117 twin-en­gine he­li­copter is fur­ther ev­i­dence of grow­ing de­mand and of the trust’s in­vest­ment and com­mit­ment in meet­ing tech­no­log­i­cal and nav­i­ga­tional ex­pec­ta­tions.

To­day, the Waikato West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter is rais­ing the bar and lead­ing the charge as an ex­am­ple of what’s pos­si­ble for all emer­gency air res­cue ser­vices in New Zealand when op­er­at­ing at the high­est stan­dards of ex­cel­lence, car­ried out by the most skilled air res­cue pro­fes­sion­als in the coun­try.

Ed­i­tor’s note: This ar­ti­cle was sup­plied by Philips Search & Res­cue Trust. Next week, HC Post looks at Whi­tianga’s he­li­copter base, and the cam­paign to re­in­state a Coro­man­del base in sum­mer.

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