Almost 400 patients flown in first year

Queenstown's first dedicated 24/7 rescue helicopter service has flown nearly 400 patients in its first year.

The satellite base of the Otago Rescue Helicopter team has been operating from a hangar in Frankton since November 1 last year.

Ian Ridley, the base's manager and former St John medic of 30 years, said missions had taken them as far afield as Greymouth, Stewart Island, Dunedin and Christchurch, and everywhere in between.

The work included accident and medical events in remote locations, hospital transfers, and alpine and back-country rescues.

The service had particularly proved its worth for people suffering heart attacks and strokes, flying them directly to Dunedin or Christchurch within shorter timeframes than before, Mr Ridley said.

Its first call-out on its first day was to a crash involving a car and a tourist bus near Kingston that claimed the lives of two 23-year-old American travellers.

Other notable missions were a tree that toppled over by the Shotover River in Arthurs Point in January, injuring five members of a family, and a jet-boat crash in Skippers Canyon the following month that injured nine tourists.

About a half of its work was medical-related rather than "dramatic accidents", but the area's terrain, changeable weather and night-time flying often made the work challenging.

Mr Ridley said the Queenstown service's four paramedics were on permanent secondment to the service from St John.

Its three pilots had extensive international experience between them, having flown in places as diverse as the Himalayas, the Antarctic and the Pacific Islands.

Mr Ridley said part of his role had been meeting tourist operators, and forging closer relationships with groups such as Wakatipu LandSAR, the police and the Queenstown and Wanaka Alpine and Cliff Rescue teams.

One of its most important relationships was with the Lakes District Air Rescue Trust, which continued to provide vital financial support.

The service is provided by Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand Ltd, a joint venture between Helicopters Otago and Christchurch-based GCH Aviation.

An on-call service is still being run from Te Anau.

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