This Sunday marks a significant milestone for the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter and the people of the Whanganui and Manawatu regions.
During the past 25 years 8,285 missions have been carried out, many of them high profile.
Patients have expressed emotional thanks for the service and recognise they owe their life to the rescue helicopter and EMS providers who support it.
“There is no doubt in my mind that without the rescue helicopter I wouldn’t be here today. To die in front of my kids and be brought back…words don’t even begin to explain how grateful I am”, said Peter Horn after suffering a cardiac arrest in 2012.
One particular mission that stands out for all those invovled with the rescue helicopter, was the June 1995 Ansett plane crash near Palmerston North where the rescue helicopter was called in to transport critical patients to hospital.
The rescue helicopter service was born 25 years ago, when a panel was formed to recommend the best operator to provide air ambulance and rescue services the Whanganui and Manawatu community’s. That panel included Mayor of Palmerston North City, at the time, Paul Reiger.
With already established bases in Taupo and Hamilton, Philips Search and Rescue Trust (PSRT) made a bid to replicate the Hamilton based service in Palmerston North.
PSRT backed itself to find a suitable sponsor and also funders to provide a fully dedicated EMS equipped AS350 helicopter with a suitable hangar and base facilities.
New Zealand Rail came on board as Principal Sponsor; funding to fit out the helicopter from the Lottery Grants Board was secured; a temporary hanger was supplied United Aviation
and Manawatu Toyota came on board to supply a vehicle and have remained a proud sponsor to this day.
PSRT was the successful candidate and operations commenced out of the Palmerston North Airport.
The building of a permanent hanger commenced in 1992 on the grounds of the Palmerston North Hospital. The New Zealand Army provided the manpower, project managed by Middle Districts Lions Club. This was completed in 1993 and operations have been carried out from there ever since, with the exception of a few years when single engine aircraft could not land at the hospital.
Early 2015 the single engine helicopter was replaced by a twin engine BK117 allowing the machine to reside full time back at Palmerston North Hospital.
Businesses, individuals and community groups have played a significant part in supporting the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter. With annual operating costs in excess of $1.7m the service could not continue without the support and generousity of of the community.
The Rangiwahia Home and Garden Club has been strong supporter since 1997. “Being so far out of town, the helicopter is vital to our area. We have had the rescue helicopter fly in on occasion to pick patients up and I myself was transported back in 2004 to Palmerston North Hospital so I have first hand experience of its service. It has been our club’s pleasure to support the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter over the years.” Ngaire Hancock, from the club says.
The strong relationship, spanning 25 years, between the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter and long time supporter Woodville Lions has been unwavering and reflects the communities belief in this essential life saving service.
The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter has not always been a helicopter only base. For a significant period of time, PSRT held a contract with the District Health Board that included both helicopter and fixed wing services.
Bruce Brownlie was contracted to provide the fixed wing service and has always been a passionate supporter of the trust. At one time Bruce held the position of Base Manager operating both services from the Palmerston North Airport.
Bruce couldn’t operation with a team of expereinced flight nurses. Pip Cotterell, a Mid Central DHB Flight Nurse, made a great contribution to the service by developing a dedicated team of flight nurses who were available around the clock.
Today the operation still functions much the same, however, due to demand the base now requires two full time pilots, Base Manager/Pilot Chris Moody and Pilot Lance Burns and employs two full time crew.
As the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter heads into its next 25 years it is a time to reflect and value the very special people, sponsors and supporters who have given their time, expertise and generousity to safeguard this life saving service for generations to come.
Pilot Steve Oliver in front of the Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter and the newly built hangar at Palmerston North Hospital
Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter on an early mission
Response Vehicle supplied by Manawatu Toyota with the rescue helicopter, Pilot Guy Beange (R) and Manawatu Toyota’s Simon Taylor
PSRT Secretery David Wickham, PSRT Chairman John Cooper, CEO Tranz Rail Francis Small, PSRT Trustee Stewart Davies, Tranz Rail USA Representative Ed Burkhurt, PSRT Pilot Guy Beange, PSRT John Funnell