Super-supporter grounded after rescue helicopter call-out

Pia Sanson
One East Coast resident was supposed to arrive in style to Sunday’s opening of the Te Araroa Aerodrome but (saving) life got in the way.

One East Coast resident was supposed to arrive in style to Sunday’s opening of the Te Araroa Aerodrome but (saving) life got in the way.

Long-time Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust (EHRT) supporter Pia Sanson was to be picked up from Whakarua Park, near her Ruatoria home, and flown to the opening celebration where the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter team was to give a winch demonstration.

“But just as they were to leave from the Gisborne hangar they were dispatched to transfer a patient in serious condition to Waikato Hospital,” says EHRT chair Patrick Willock.

“It was disappointing for all of us but but that’s the nature of rescue helicopter work. When the call comes, they have to go.”

Once the festivities were over, however, Mr Willock and trust treasurer Ian Parker popped in to see Mrs Sanson at home to express their thanks for her support.

Mrs Sanson has made regular donations since 2006, when her son was involved in a Christmas Eve car crash on the winding, gravel Whareponga Road.

“They’d had a head-on with another car coming around the corner and though we’d been notified there’d been an accident, with no cell phone coverage we had no idea what was happening,” she says.

“It wasn’t until they’d been picked up and the ambulance got down to the main road that they were able to call us so, like any parents, we were really worried.”

Though her son’s arm was badly broken in two places, his injuries were not thought to be life-threatening.

“But they didn’t want him to suffer all the pain and possibly more damage by taking him by road to Gisborne Hospital. We were so relieved to hear the rescue helicopter was on its way.”

Mrs Sanson’s support of EHRT dates back to when she worked for the Ruatoria branch of Westpac Bank and got involved in its fundraising for “choppa month”.

After her son’s accident she began donations of her own, giving $10 a fortnight.

And in 2022 – seven years after the bank closed its Ruatoria branch – she and fellow former Westpac employee Katherine Callaghan organised a big event that raised $25,000 for the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust.

“We always wish we could do more,” she says. “But we’re just so grateful for the service the helicopter team provides, we do what we can.”

But Mr Willock says there’s huge value in her regular donation.

“That regular contribution comes out of Pia’s own pocket and we’re mindful of the commitment that takes,” he says.

“Support from our community is what helps keep the helicopter in the air, enabling the team to do their incredible life-saving work.”

Meanwhile, Pia Sanson admits to feeling some relief after her flight was diverted, having been a bit nervous about her first flight in a helicopter.

“The invitation was a bit of a shock but everybody was telling me to go for it,” she says.

“The reality is that other people go in it all the time. And if I could have encouraged one more person to donate a little bit, then it would have been worth it.”

CAPTIONS: GROUNDED: Though Pia Sanson’s planned flight in the Trust Tairāwhiti Eastland Rescue Helicopter was derailed, she says she’s “full steam ahead” organising her next fundraiser for the Eastland Helicopter Rescue Trust.