Air Rescue Saves Lives

by Anonymous Author

It is no great surprise that Rick Knight, Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew chief, and his team spend most of their time ‘watching over’ rural Canterbury. The air rescue service is tasked with responding in emergency situations where access in remote terrain is dif cult and time is paramount. 

Air Rescue is joining partners AsureQuality to launch its annual mapping exercise, asking farmers to update maps and noting any landmarks and access points — all of which helps when those minutes are ticking by on life-saving missions.

The Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust (CWCART) is charged with raising $7 million per annum to cover the shortfall from government funding, and they are determined to keep this 24/7 service going as it is a lifeline in small and rural communities.

“Recently the service has been stretched to its limits with the 7.8 earthquake in North Canterbury. In the first week the service responded to 19 call-outs in the Kaikoura area, versus the normal two or three per week,” said Christine Prince, CEO of CWCART.

“At the time the Westpac Rescue Helicopter was deployed to Kaikoura to ensure swift response times; access has since improved but the work continues as patients must still be transported by air.”

Rick Knight reflects on this time:

“We worked around the clock and are fortunate that we have a well-trained and experienced crew that all worked well together and in conjunction with other emergency services. “The pressure has continued as it has been the busiest summer on record with 85 missions in December alone.” There is a huge variety in the type of missions the air rescue crew attend, and no two missions are ever the same — the crew have to be prepared for any eventuality. “Annually, the crew are trained and recertified — this costs $25,000 a year for each crew member. During the day we have to be in the air within 10 minutes of receiving an emergency call and at night, within 20 minutes,” said Rick.

“Night vision goggles mean that we can respond at any time — since the introduction of the goggles we are in a position to help so many more patients in distress like Heather.

“Heather suffered very grave injuries including a broken back, neck and both legs, as well as serious brain injuries after falling 300 metres in a climbing accident. “One of her party activated a personal locator beacon, but without ‘night vision goggles’ the crew would not have been able to rescue Heather that night in Canterbury — between Mt Jagged and Mt Upham. Being able to purchase new equipment for air rescue saves lives.” 

In rural areas with limited and frequently stretched resources, sending a helicopter with an intensive care paramedic on board is often the only option. Early intervention is key. 

“This is particularly the case with respiratory, cardiovascular and stroke incidents. In these cases the air rescue crew work is part of a bigger plan to improve ‘patient care pathways’ — the goal is to get the patient the right treatment as quickly as possible,” said Christine.

‘Out of the blue’ is how Phil described the pain which grabbed him across the chest as he cleaned his beloved quad bike.

                     During the day the Westpac rescue helicopter team have to 
                      be in the air within 10 minutes of receiving an emergency 
                                    call and at night, within 20 minutes

Without letting up, the pain ran down his arm and into his neck — he knew he had to get help.” It was Phil’s lucky day, not only did a mate ‘pop by’ but also he managed to get a phone signal — as 9/10 times there is none in that area.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter was dispatched, and flew Phil to Christchurch Hospital where he underwent surgery to insert three stents to deal with the blockage in his heart.

“In cases like Phil’s the Intensive Care Paramedics diagnose, treat and transmit 12 lead ECGs from the helicopter on the way to the hospital. A patient can go straight to the Cardiac Catheter room bypassing the emergency room.” The crew are attending such medical emergencies on a daily basis; all in rural areas. Farming is vital and we want to be there to support all farming communities across the region. Last year the crew responded to more than 900 missions across Canterbury and the West Coast. Costing on average $8,625 a mission, it is an expensive service — but can you put a price on a human life — we need to keep this life saving service.

To help, please make a donation through — every dollar helps save lives.