Southern Lakes Helicopters Te Anau director, chief pilot
and newly created knight Richard 'Hannibal' Hayes. Photo by
New knight and Southern Lakes Helicopters pilot Richard
''Hannibal'' Hayes seldom knows exactly what is next on the
Last Friday, after speaking to the Otago Daily Times
at 8am, he flew research divers from a remote corner of
Fiordland before helping net wapiti for study purposes.
That night, he ended up on Stewart Island at 9.30 to collect
a girl with a badly broken arm.Over 30 years and more than
30,000 hours of flying, he has had adventures galore and
rescued an uncounted number of people.
''It's just the name of the game,'' he says in his
self-deprecating way when asked about lives saved and rescues
''You get used to it; you don't think much of it. The phone
goes from control ... [saying] 'we've got a tasking. Can you
respond to it?' [I say] 'yep, no problem, have the medics
meet me at the hangar' and then [I get] night-vision gear,
life rafts, life jackets and full of gas, fly it up and get
Milton-born Sir Richard (62), who said he was humbled by the
honour, is regarded as ''legendary'' in the industry and the
That status was reinforced on February 18, 2008, when his
Robinson R44 helicopter lost its tail rotor.
Sir Richard managed to keep the craft airborne for 25 minutes
before landing the chopper like a fixed-wing plane on a
remote agricultural airstrip.
Later that day, he was back in action rescuing French sailors
from a capsized yacht off the Otago coast.
While he has received a Federation Aeronautique
Internationale Diploma for Outstanding Airmanship in 2007 and
a New Zealand Police Award for Services to Search and Rescue
in 2002, and became a member of the New Zealand Order of
Merit for services to Search and Rescue operations in 2001,
the knighthood ''is something that I never ever thought would
Proud wife Carol said her husband did not like being singled
Through his company, Southern Lakes Helicopters, Sir Richard
is a sponsor of numerous community organisations and
He was a pioneer in the use of night-vision goggles.
One search ended with an injured man being found just after
4am thanks to his artificial light source, ''whereas we
couldn't find him in the daylight''.
On another occasion, an injured climber was lifted off ''just
''I think [he] would have succumbed to hypothermia during the
''That's what I call a positive result because it would have
been a negative one had we left them and looked for them in
Sir Richard has fought fires, helped in flood rescues and
winched people off ships, in one case ferrying a man and his
severed arm to meet an air ambulance. The arm was packed in
ice but in the end was not successfully reattached.
He was part of the 2013 Kenn Borek Twin Otter search and
rescue on the Antarctic's third-highest mountain.
''We saw what we needed to see and the SAR team in there
couldn't do anything.''
Three employees of Canadian company Kenn Borek Air were
killed when their aircraft hit the mountain. ''All we did was
pick up a few personal belongings.''
On a brighter note, he admitted to having ''a lot of fun''
flying people from the Hollywood film industry for the Lord
of the Rings films, the Hobbit films and The Chronicles of
''They are great people to work with ... they're extremely,
extremely hard-working, [they do] long hours but they feed
you well and it's great.''
Then, during winter, there was heli-skiing, which involved
him ''carting people to the top of the hill'' and picking
them up again at the bottom.
''As long as you've got a heater going, you're pretty
- Sir Richard's brother, former Clutha mayor Juno
Hayes, has become an Officer of the New Zealand
Order of Merit.