20 years of saving lives with helipad

Twenty years on from the inaugural landing, crew (from left) Helicopters Otago chief pilot Graeme...
Twenty years on from the inaugural landing, crew (from left) Helicopters Otago chief pilot Graeme Gale, and paramedics Doug Flett and Ian Ridley, reflect on thousands of patients treated more quickly, thanks to the helipad. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
For Graeme Gale, touching down for the first time 20 years ago on Dunedin Hospital's new helipad was "just another landing''.

Two decades on, he remains chief pilot for the Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter and is still a dab hand at the controls.

Yesterday, the Otago Daily Times joined Mr Gale and two St John paramedics from the inaugural helipad landing, Doug Flett and Ian Ridley, on a quick flight from their home base at Taieri airfield to the hospital roof to mark the 20th anniversary.

While the first landing remained fresh in his mind, Mr Gale said he was more excited then about the benefits the helipad would yield for the region.

"The pad allowed us to offer a full, proper, tier-one rescue helicopter service.''

Construction in the 1990s was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Otago Community Trust.

Mr Gale said the helipad reduced the time taken to deliver patients from helicopter to operating theatre by at least 20 minutes, compared to the old Kitchener St landing site near Steamer Basin, still used as a backup.

Since the first landing, on March 6, 1998, more than 7500 patients have been delivered to hospital via the helipad, including 187 so far this year.

As well as numerous lives saved, Mr Gale said many patients had experienced quicker rehabilitation times from getting treatment faster.

"It's been a life-changing thing for a lot of people.''

The helipad had been a vital asset for the city for 20 years and he was confident any new Dunedin Hospital would include one.

Dunedin Hospital Rebuild chairman Pete Hodgson said he was not prepared to answer any "colour of the curtains'' questions.

He could not confirm the new hospital would feature a helipad until contracts were signed.


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