Responding to a medical event called in last Tuesday morning, the crew flew to the end of Matairau Road, over the Hikuwai River from State Highway 35.
Contractors working in the area had contacted emergency services after a man travelling with a whanau member had become critically unwell.
“There was silt as far as you could see, even going through an old building on the property,” says pilot Tony Brice.
“But the contractors were able to direct us to an area where the silt had dried enough to be sure there was not soft mud underneath, and that made all the difference.”
As well as spray-painting “SOS” on the proposed landing site, the contractors also helped transport the patient to the helicopter as the ground beyond the helicopter was too soft to wheel a stretcher on.
Once on board the patient was assessed and treated by the Critical Care Flight Paramedic, then flown in a serious condition to Gisborne Hospital.
Tony Brice says it was a challenging uplift, but he’d faced similar conditions flying in Papua New Guinea and in Gisborne after Cyclone Bola.
“The car the patient had been travelling in got stuck in the mud, which shows you just don’t know what is under that hard crust.”
The crew could have landed in a softer spot but sinking in mud would not have been ideal, he added.
“In that case you’d have to be very careful to go up evenly so the helicopter does not tip on take-off.
“So it was really useful to be directed to a firm landing spot, and that worked out well for all involved.”
Caption: Good direction from people on the ground helped the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter make a safe landing in a sea of silt. Picture by crewman Kelley Waite.