Rescue chopper pilot kept busy

Heliworks pilot Shaun Clark (left), with (from left)  Lakes District Air Rescue Trust chairman Jules Tapper, trust secretary/manager Tony Hill and Heliworks general manager Richard Mills beside a rescue helicopter. Photo by Christina McDonald.
Heliworks pilot Shaun Clark (left), with (from left) Lakes District Air Rescue Trust chairman Jules Tapper, trust secretary/manager Tony Hill and Heliworks general manager Richard Mills beside a rescue helicopter. Photo by Christina McDonald.

Shaun Clark has been a pilot with Heliworks for three months but already he has flown at least 15 rescue missions in the dedicated Heliworks helicopter.

He spent 22 years with the Royal New Zealand Air Force and is one of the five pilots at the company who flies rescue missions as part of Heliworks' contract with the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust.

More than half of those 15 missions have been at night, Mr Clark said, and in early February there was one night he flew two rescue missions.

''If the weather is fine it's not too bad but if the weather is poor it can be a bit demanding.

''You never know when you're going to get called out.''

Despite the potential for late night and early morning call outs, he finds the rescue aspect of his job enjoyable.

The two main reasons for this were ''it's nice to be helping people out'' and the varied nature of the work.

''You never quite know where you're going or what you are going to.

''I've landed on roads, in paddocks, on river beds.''

The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust spent 520 flying hours, attending 320 missions, in its last financial year, ended Marc h 31.

Two helicopters, one in Queenstown and another in Te Anau, are available at all hours to attend anything from search and rescue call outs to hospital transfers and road accidents.

A fee-for-service system operates with money provided by entities that include the Accident Compensation Corporation and the Ministry of Health.

The agencies are invoiced after each mission and non-New Zealanders have to pay for the service.

The trust's manager, Tony Hill, said it was a ''great community asset, which sort of flies under the radar''.

Unlike other air rescue trusts in New Zealand, the Lakes District trust does not own or lease the helicopters. Heliworks was awarded a contract to carry out the service.

Within about 15 minutes, a Heliworks helicopter is ready to go, equipped with emergency medical equipment and two St John medics.

It helped that the St John Queenstown base was a short walk from the Heliworks hangar.

Eight rescue helicopter/fixed wing community trusts and two air operators formed the Air Rescue Group about two years ago, to foster an integrated and efficient national network.

The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, which was established in 1992, is part of it, as is the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Mr Hill said there was ''a lot of collaboration in New Zealand between the trusts on the boundaries''.

The Lakes District trust's boundary extends from the Southern Ocean and covers Campbell and Auckland Islands, the Muttonbird islands, Stewart Island, Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National parks, the Coronet, Remarkables, Cardrona, Treble Cone and Waiorau Snow Farm skifields, and the Routeburn, Milford, Hollyford, Greenstone and Caples tracks.

St John Central Otago territory manager Kelvin Perriman said it was crucial the service was available.

The St John staff who boarded the rescue helicopter for aero medical missions attended incidents such as motor vehicle accidents, mountain bike injuries and skifield injuries.

''Our staff do quite rigorous training,'' Mr Perriman said.

About 10% of St John Queenstown's calls involved a helicopter response.