Fast turnaround for rescue helicopter team

An extra-fast turnaround meant the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter had to be hot-fuelled between jobs that took it first to Ruatoria, then in a separate mission to Hicks Bay.

“We sometimes hot-refuel when on route to somewhere like Waikato but it’s not something we often do at the hangar,” says crewman Jean-Pierre Jordaan about the process of refuelling while the helicopter is still running.

“But in this case there was no interval between call-outs,” he says. “So (pilot) James (Easterbrook kept the helicopter running while (critical care flight paramedic) Gareth (McDougall) restocked his medical supplies and I took care of the fuel.”

The urgency occurred after an early-evening mission to Ruatoria, where a woman had suffered a broken leg.

Taking off at 6.15pm last Monday, a brisk southerly saw them arrive 23 minutes later rather than the usual 30, landing at the Kahuitara sports ground where local Fire and Emergency picked up Mr McDougall to take him to the scene.

By 7.35pm the team were back in the air, landing 36 minutes later to handover their patient at Gisborne Hospital where they were still on-site at 8.40pm when the next call came in.

That was to Hicks Bay for a medical event, which was causing the young patient some distress and she needed to be brought to Gisborne.

In response, the team were back at the hangar within nine minutes, restocked, refuelled and were again airborne just eight minutes later for a 9.26pm landing at Hicks Bay school Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Kawakawa mai Tawhiti.

After assessing and treating the patient, she was delivered to Gisborne Hospital by 10.54pm and the team landed back at the hangar just under half an hour later.

“It was a quick turnaround but nothing we are not trained to do,” says Mr Jordaan.

“What’s really useful is having the local Fire and Ambulance services on-scene . . . they often stabilise the patient and help streamline the entire process, so we’re always really pleased to see them.”

Last Monday’s East Coast call-outs were just two of half-a-dozen missions recorded by the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter in the week to Sunday.

“But from Sunday they would have looked a little different,” says Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust chair Patrick Willock.

“Our distinctive white BK-117 helicopter was due for routine maintenance, so the team has a bright yellow replacement to get them through the week.”