Helicopter back-up brought in as emergency response

Less than 16 hours after a State of Emergency was declared in Gisborne, back-up arrived to support the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team as the latest weather event unfolded.

The Waikato Westpac Rescue Helicopter was sent by Search and Rescue Services (SRSL) . . . the company that manages operations on behalf of five North Island trusts, including the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust (EHRT).

“After Cyclone Gabrielle SRSL worked as fast as they could to get extra cover to Gisborne,” says acting base manager/crewman Kelley Waite.

“This time, they had enough warning to respond proactively in offering us some extra hands on deck.”

The Waikato BK-117 arrived on Friday morning, complete with the rescue-ready team of pilot Loren Haisley, critical care flight paramedic Ray Bestwick and crewman David Bedenhorst.

“The support helicopter was initially booked for 48 hours from late Friday morning with a view to that changing in response to the State of Emergency,” says EHRT chair Patrick Willock.

“As it turned out, the weather eased so that timeline was enough for the Waikato team to offer critical support in the time of greatest need.”

The Waikato aircraft has the extra capability of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) that allow pilots to fly when VFR (Visual Flight Rules) are limiting. That meant it was able to complete a patient transfer in the early hours of Sunday morning, from Gisborne to a roadside event in Hastings, and on to Waikato Hospital.

Meanwhile, the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team concentrated on tasks in its own region, all taking it up the East Coast

On Sunday they responded to a call-out at 11.56am – just four minutes before the State of Emergency was lifted – in response to a medical event at Te Araroa.

This followed two Saturday missions to the East Coast – one to Ruatoria, the other to Awatere (near Te Araroa) – flying in sometimes challenging conditions to treat patients suffering medical events before transferring them to Gisborne Hospital.

And it was those flying conditions that led to some city-based locals reporting the action overhead at 8.30 in the morning.

“When heading up the Coast we normally fly over the hills to the north of our hangar at Gisborne Airport,” Kelley Waite says.

“But because of the cloud cover and north-easterly winds, our pilot decided the safest option was to go straight to the Wainui coastline. That took us over the middle of town and that’s why people would have heard us.”

Caption: Even if State Highway 35 was not closed on Saturday, it would have taken hours to travel by road to Awatere (inland from Te Araroa) where the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter attended a medical event, treating the patient before flying them in a stable condition to Gisborne Hospital. Picture by Kelley Waite.