Queenstown’s first dedicated rescue helicopter has already proved to be ”a real big asset” after an influx of call-outs since it arrived in the resort.
The Queenstown arm of the Otago Rescue Helicopter team, operating from the Heliworks hangar in Frankton, had completed 58 missions between the new base opening on November 1 and December 20.
Team member Daniel Bentley, who has been a St John paramedic since 2003, said the number of operations had ”certainly stepped up a lot” since the base opened.
”I have worked in Queenstown for a long time and that is certainly a lot more jobs than what we were doing on the rescue helicopter then.”
He said the new and improved chopper could not have come sooner and was great to work on.
”It’s brilliant really, as a working environment it is a whole lot better than the smaller machines that we were used to, in terms of being able to treat the patient, access the patient and work there.”
He said the team’s first call-out on its first day at the new base was a ”stand-out” and ”started everything off with a bang”.
A crash involving a car and a tourist bus that day, near Kingston, claimed the lives of two 23-year-old American travellers and reportedly injured 10 others.
”It really demonstrates what an amazing facility that we have here, that we can just very quickly project a really high skill level down to a situation, or a scene, like that.
”We were there very, very quickly and that’s really a way that you can make a difference.”
Mr Bentley said during a more recent call-out, the team responded to reports of a person having a stroke on Stewart Island, showing the ”range” of mission locations the new helicopter could fly to.
The medics got the patient to Dunedin Hospital within four hours of symptoms being noticed.
The team was also called to take a patient from Haast to Greymouth.
Ian Ridley, manager of the new base and former St John medic of 30 years, said it was ”quite unusual for us to go to Greymouth”.
”All of the air ambulance work across New Zealand is run from one desk … and these guys are shuffling and resourcing it depending on where everybody is.”
Mr Ridley said the new helicopter and base were ”a real big asset” for the area.
”We have done quite a bit of fairly routine work from Lakes District Hospital to both Dunedin and Invercargill – a lot of moderate to very, very serious trauma, since we started on November 1.
”We have done a few rescue jobs around the place, with Queenstown being the adventure capital of New Zealand, occasionally people have mishaps.”
The new base provided Queenstown’s first dedicated day-time rescue helicopter service. An on-call service was still being run from Te Anau for overnight call-outs.
The service is now provided by Helicopter Emergency Medical Services New Zealand Limited, a joint venture between Helicopters Otago and Christchurch-based GCH Aviation.