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Dedicated Rescue Chopper For Coromandel Takes Flight

Dedicated Rescue Chopper For Coromandel Takes Flight

One of the two Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters takes flight on Boxing Day to help cope with the emergencies of Coromandel’s rapidly swelling summer population during the holiday period. The chopper will be based at Whitianga and will provide a dedicated 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service to the Thames Coromandel area and Great Barrier Island.

In previous times the lone Auckland Rescue Helicopter has flown from its base at Mechanics Bay, Auckland, on emergency missions to the area, but the commissioning of another chopper by the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust means a machine can be closer at hand to help cope with emergencies as the area experiences a swell of up to 130,000 people during the holiday period.

ARHT Chief Executive Bob Parkinson says as well as adding a second rescue helicopter to the fleet, the initiative to base one at Whitianga until Anniversary Weekend at the end of January was the result of a 70 per cent increase in missions to the Thames Coromandel region between 2006 and 2009.

“During the corresponding period last summer we flew 40 missions to the Thames Coromandel area and to Great Barrier, but we had to turn down another 10 because the helicopter was already in use attending to someone else,” he says.

“Having a dedicated rescue chopper based at Whitianga will reduce response times to emergencies, helping the local First Response service, Police, Search and Rescue and Fire deal with the huge demand that comes with the influx of people to the area during the summer holidays.”

Generous sponsorship from local businesses has also ensured the Whitianga service, which will cost $50,000 for the five weeks, goes ahead. Sponsors who have contributed to the cost include Tony Richard Toyota, Watts Group, Troy Wheeler Contracting, Pro Floors and Whitianga Ice and the Coromandel Senior Settlement Trust.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter crews will take it in shifts to cover the Whitianga service, which will be co-ordinated by Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust Helicopter Manager Greg Brownson.

This holiday season marks Mr Brownson’s 27th year as a crewman. He joined what was then the Surf Lifesaving Helicopter Squad as a volunteer crewman in 1983 when it was based out at Piha Beach, and the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust as a full time crewman in 1991.

Over his 26 years of service Mr Brownson has been on more than 1800 missions, and he says while the service has changed a lot over the years in terms of being more professional, with crew exceptionally highly trained and multi-skilled, the immense satisfaction of helping people in emergency situations remains the same.

As a crewman he has been on plenty of trips to the Thames Coromandel area, and was on board the new chopper’s first mission in August where a forestry worker who had been seriously injured was winched out.

“It took us about 25 minutes to get there from Auckland, and if we’d been on the ground in Whitianga it would have only have taken us about eight minutes,” says Mr Brownson.


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