Rescue helicopter team’s post-cyclone efforts acknowledged

While the crew say they were “just doing their jobs”, members of the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team have received special acknowledgement for their work in the days and weeks after Cyclone Gabrielle.

That came in the form of helicopter-shaped trophies – which also went to key members of the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust (EHRT) — noting the recipients’ “extraordinary contribution” in supporting the Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne regions following the February 13 cyclone.

They were presented in Gisborne last week by David Wickham, chief executive of emergency helicopter provider Search and Rescue Services Ltd (SRSL) which operates 10 helicopters working over eight bases across the North Island.

With communications patchy and areas impacted by a lack of power and water, Mr Wickham observed from his Taupo office as helicopter rescue crews first grappled with those issues, then swung into “solution-finding and action”.

Also in Gisborne for the presentation was SRSL clinical operations manager Graeme Harvey who, in the days after the cyclone, flew from Taupo first to Hastings, then on to Gisborne where he stayed for a week, spending 24/7 at the EHRT hangar.

From there, he helped juggle supplies, the 12,000 litres of fuel required per day, the two extra helicopters (from Otago Southland Rescue Helicopter) and additional crew from both the Otago and Taupo bases.

Between them the crews worked non-stop checking on rural residents, delivering medical supplies, flying people in need of care to hospitals in Gisborne and the Bay of Plenty, and responding to emergency medical and trauma events.

“While the Tairāwhiti crew can handle pretty much anything, it was great for me to be on the ground in Gisborne to get direct access to that local perspective to help with task management,” Mr Harvey said.

Base manager Richard Curtis said that, from the crew’s perspective, they were just doing their jobs “but it was great to have Graeme and (then-base manager) Kelley Waite on board to sort out the logistics”.

“To have extra crews and aircraft turn up to help out was incredible,” Richard Curtis said. “And for us, we got to show off our amazing hangar and the amazing support we have here.”

EHRT chairman Patrick Willock said that support took many forms, from hot meals, to a plumber installing a shower system so the crew could clean up without taxing the city’s stricken water supply.

“While testing, the response in Gisborne was made easier by the fact we are a small base in an isolated region, so as a Trust we are closely connected with our crew and our community,” he said.

Though initially stuck in Auckland, Trust secretary Ian Parker was able to contact one of his business clients, Gear Meat, which delivered hot meals to to ensure all local and visiting crew were fed.

“In addition, even as communications were still down there was a knock at the door and local lunch bar Truck Stop was also offering to supply meals,” Mr Willock added.

“A local supermarket made sure our crews had all the water and supplies they needed and, with the phones still down on the Wednesday, local Sam Wanklyn (Four Square Wainui Road) came knocking to say ‘what do you guys need’. It’s that support that helps make this service such a success.”

On behalf of the trust, Mr Willock thanked SRSL for its recognition and the crew for “doing what they do so well”.

Mr Wickham also went to Hawke’s Bay to present crew members there with the trophies, which celebrate “individual strength and courage” as well as “firm and sound leadership”.

“Our teams tend to think this is what they signed on for but Cyclone Gabrielle demanded more of them than anyone could have expected,” he told the Tairāwhiti pilots, critical care paramedics, and crew.

“We are so proud of the work done by those of you at the coal face, so we felt it important to acknowledge the valuable services you contributed to the SRSL response in the very trying times after the cyclone.”

Caption: Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter base manager Richard Curtis (left) and Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust chair Patrick Willock at the presentation of trophies to mark team members’ “extraordinary contribution” in the wake of Cyclone Gabrielle.