Heli hero’s mission


A high-altitude Queenstown chopper pilot – decorated for his bravery in Nepal – is using his new-found fame as a fundraising tool.

Jason Laing added to his growing lustre in Nepal after rescuing dozens of climbers and sherpas trapped by an earthquake-triggered avalanche on Mt Everest in April.

“I was just doing my job,” he tells Mountain Scene.

Laing’s become better-known in New Zealand after he flew over quake-ravaged villages for TV One’s Sunday current affairs programme.

The documentary showed him receiving a Nepalese search and rescue bravery award on International Everest Dayu, marking the anniversary of Kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s first conquest of the world’s highest mountain.

He received the award following a calamitous avalanche on Everest in April last year.

While other pilots refused to fly, Laing long-line out four survivors and 13 dead climbers.

He also took an unconscious climber off a nearby mountain at 6250 metres.

Laing, the first New Zealand chopper pilot to operate in Nepal, says the Hillary connection has helped him become well-known over there.

He says he’s happy to leverage his increasing recognition in NZ to help post-quake fundraising.

He and legendary Wanaka mountain guide Guy Cotter packed out a Queenstown bar two weeks ago for a fundraiser that raised almost $9000 to help charities that are rebuilding villages and providing aid to refugees.

Following a speech last week to the Rotary Club of Queenstown, Rotarians expressed interest in helping fund a new helicopter rescue system for Nepal.

Costing $50,000 it would be the safest system in the world, he says.

Laing’s also inviting Queenstowners to a fundraising talk he and Hillary’s mountaineer son Peter are giving at Cromwell’s Golden Gate Lodge next Friday.

Organised by Cromwell College, the function will raise money to restore a quake-ravaged school in Phortse which was built by Hillary senior.

Laing’s also keen to explore the idea of building a shed for specialised mountain rescue equipment in Nepal, similar to one used by Lakes District Air Rescue Trust (LDART) at Queenstown Airport.

This would complement efforts that a Swiss-based alpine rescue federation is making to set up a similar organisation in Nepal, he says.

LDART has already donated a long line he uses over there.

Laing’s also working very closely with the Himalayan Trust set up by Sir Edmund Hillary in 1960.

Meanwhile, he’s encouraging Kiwis to return to Nepal now that the tourist ban has been lifted.

“Nepal needs tourists, trekkers and climbers to spend money.

“Don’t be scared of the place – the place is not absolutely devastated.”

To reserve tickets to the Jason Laing/Peter Hillary fundraising function on July 24 in Cromwell, call 03-445-1815 or 03-445-1387