‘Highways in the sky’ lauded

The improving network of "highways in the sky" made it possible for the Otago Southland Rescue Helicopter Trust to fly more than 2000 missions last year.

The trust presented its 2022-23 annual report to major funder the Otago Regional Council, yesterday.

Helicopters Otago Ltd managing director Graeme Gale said the trust operated three dedicated helicopters from its Taieri base and two from Queenstown.

With more than 30 medics, the trust covered the bottom of the South Island - about 28% of New Zealand’s land area, Mr Gale said.

Responses to incidents involving international visitors were "very low" and there were more missions responding to e-bike crashes than skiing and snowboarding incidents, Mr Gale said.

Last year, there were significant increases to the number of accidents, medical emergencies, hospital transfers and search and rescue operations.

The trust flew 2121 missions and carried 1866 patients.

Created by instrument flight rules (IFR) routes the trust’s helicopter pilots followed a network of "highways in the sky" from Timaru to Stewart Island and into "every valley system that we service".

"IFR is when you’ve got a dirty, horrible night and you can’t see.

"You’re solely on instruments... That’s made a massive difference," Mr Gale said.

In some months, the IFR routes allowed up to 30% more flights to be made.

"It allows us to fly narrower and lower lines. It brings care to probably 20% to 30% more patients a year," Mr Gale said.

The trust’s annual report said the network of IFR routes across the region was "almost complete".

The council donates $350,000 annually.

Cr Lloyd McCall said coming from a rural community, such as Tapanui, in West Otago, the service provided a "sense of security".