‘‘Don’t take away our rescue helicopter.’’
That was the resounding cry from around 1000 protesters who braved atrocious weather in Taupo¯ yesterday to march in support of their local Greenlea rescue chopper.
The protesters included Taupo¯ ’s Mayor David Trewavas, Taupo¯ MP Louise Upston, representatives of dozens of outdoor groups, emergency services, GreyPower and dozens of other groups. The crowd chanted ‘‘Save our chopper’’ as it headed through heavy rain along Lake Terrace into the centre of Taupo¯ .
Some protesters were on walkers and wheelchairs, while one was wheeled down the road at the head of the column on a gurney.
The Ministry of Health is planning to dissolve regional helicopter bases in Taupo¯ , Rotorua and Te Anau. The areas will be serviced from Hamilton, Napier and Whanganui instead.
Lakes District Health Board member Christine Rankin said New Zealanders were often very polite and didn’t always stand up for the things they should. But the numbers that turned out to protest proved the community really cared about their chopper.
‘‘This situation is absolutely unacceptable,’’ she said.
‘‘It’s extremely unethical at the very least, no consultation, no warning and can I tell you as part of the Lake District Health Board, we heard about this when you did. Not a word of warning, no discussion, and no advice.’’
She said the Lakes DHB would do everything it could to save it.
‘‘Let me be very clear . . . people are going to die if we don’t have an appropriate helicopter rescue service.’’
Former Taupo¯ mayor Joan Williamson said this was the first time she’d signed a petition against anything.
‘‘I have never ever signed a petition in my entire career because I have always seen there are two points to things and two thoughts. But this petition is one that I made the exception to and I am very, very happy to sign it because I feel very, very strongly about the safety and wellbeing of our local communities around our lake.
‘‘All I can say is it is not well thought out, we need to do what we are doing here and show those that make the decisions.’’
Greenlea pilot and base manager Nat Every said basing the service out of Hamilton meant at least an extra 45 minutes of travel time.
In poor weather, travel times could be much longer because of the mountainous terrain around Lake Taupō. He said the Taupō and Rotorua helicopters do well over 400 rescue missions a year and that would mean another helicopter would be needed anyway to service the extra workload.
‘‘Doesn’t it make more sense to locate that machine in Taupō ?’’
Taupo¯ Mayor David Trewavas and National MP Louise Upston lead the protest.
The protest march down Lake Terrace was calling for the Ministry of Health to rethink plans to abandon funding for Taupo¯ ’s Greenlea rescue helicopter.
Marchers created their own signs for the protest.
The Taupo¯ and Reporoa Lions Club joined the march.