Helicopters Otago earns safety award

Graeme Gale
Graeme Gale
Winning a Civil Aviation Authority safety award came as a surprise for Helicopters Otago chief executive Graeme Gale.

Mr Gale and his company gained the ''organisation award'' at the annual Director of Civil Aviation Awards - which are presented to individuals and organisations with an ''overwhelming safety ethos''.

Mr Gale, speaking from Singapore where he is on holiday, said he was not even aware his company - founded in 1990 and based on the Taieri - was in the running for the award.

His son, Kevin, travelled to Wellington this week to receive the trophy in his absence.

Mr Gale was keen to pass on praise to his ''excellent'' staff.

''While I might be at the head of it, I am only a little piece in the big, big wheel.''

The recognition comes as Mr Gale is on an enforced break from flying after suffering a heart attack almost two months ago, but he planned to get back behind the controls as soon as the six-month compulsory stand-down period finished.

''I should be back up and flying by the start of December,'' he said.

Not being able to fly meant he could dedicate more time to training his pilots and he was keen to look at the positives.

He compared having a heart attack to cutting a finger - you bandage it up and move on.

''I am just really pleased to be alive.''

The CAA singled out Helicopters Otago for its ''instrumental'' role in the introduction of night-vision goggles in New Zealand and its overall safety ethos.

''This organisation is continually exploring avenues and opportunities to enhance the services they provide in a safe and efficient manner,'' the CAA said.

The company operated a fleet of 10 helicopters and conducted a wide range of activities from firefighting operations to filming, photography and animal tracking.

It was involved in more than 600 rescue missions each year.

- vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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