ORC saves rescue helicopter

Stephen Cairns.The Otago Regional Council is the new main backer of the Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust, after the Lion Foundation ended its funding.

Council chairman Stephen Cairns last night said the council had agreed, subject to confirmation at tomorrow's council meeting, to sponsor the trust at $250,000 a year.

The council had for more than a decade given $100,000 a year to the trust. Mr Cairns said, when contacted, the sponsorship deal would enable the helicopter to continue its operation 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The service could be seen as not being part of the council's core business, but the council viewed it as a significant regional activity, Mr Cairns said.

The council funding was for a substantial period but he declined to confirm details. Trust chairman Ross Black last night said the Lion Foundation told the trust before Christmas it would withdraw funding from March 31.

The trust had approached two parties, including the regional council, to take over as the main sponsor. It was ‘‘brilliant'' the council had taken on the role.

He declined to name the other party. The service would be known as the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter. The council funding would cover fixed costs.

Mr Black said the Lion Foundation could no longer commit to the sponsorship because of a lack of funds generated in the Otago region. The foundation's funds come from more than 2700 poker machines across the country.

Mr Black said he was anxious after being informed by the Lion Foundation of its withdrawal, but the council's move had allayed any fears for a service ‘‘we all hope we never need''.

The trust has operated for more than 10 years. It has fixed costs of between $350,000 and $400,000 a year.

The service carries out just under 400 missions a year, with the average mission lasting 1.2 hours. It covers 25% of the land mass of New Zealand