Dargaville & Districts
In the past five years, Northland's Electricity Rescue Helicopter air ambulances have flown the equivalent of 23 times around the earth.
They've been to the moon and back twice since 2004 and carried enough passengers to fill an Air NZ 747-400 jumbo jet more than a dozen times. With more than 1000 flights a year, demand for the Northland Emergency Services Trust service is growing close to 10 per cent a year.
It has flown more than 15,000 times since its first flight on November 15, 1988, saving hundreds of lives in and around Northland - and offshore.
The annual helicopter appeal is under way and a year-long celebration of its 25th year of service is about to begin.
Ruawai College head boy Mike Bickers knows first-hand how important the service is.
Mike, 18, was injured barely two minutes into a rugby game earlier this year.
Left lying on his side with a potentially serious neck injury, he says he was almost blacking out with everything tingly from his neck down.
"People from the Dargaville Fire Brigade were there to help out - they directed everything and phoned the ambulance."
Flown to Whangarei Hospital, Mike was X-rayed and initially it was feared he had a cracked vertebrae. However, doctors then discovered it was naturally fused.
Five hours later he was on his way home but was kept off the rugby field for a month.
"You see these people on TV and they look like they know what they are doing and that's the way it turned out for me," Mike says.
"The biggest relief when they arrived was the realisation it was almost over. They have so much experience. They were brilliant and I'm very thankful."
Te Kopuru apprentice builder Kieran Frood has experienced both sides of the rescue helicopter's far-reaching service.
Four years ago, the teen was fooling around on a motorbike when a back wheel got caught on a tree stump, catapulting him into a concrete fence post.
He tried to stand up but the impact had snapped his fibula and tibia, leaving bone sticking out the back of his leg. He also cracked the top of his knee cap and dislocated his knee. He was flown to Whangarei before continuing his journey with the air service to Auckland Hospital the next day.
Two years after his accident, Kieran, now 19, was on holiday in Tauranga Bay and involved in a rescue beyond the waves where at one stage he thought he might not make it back.
He says he appreciates the help he received and when he could give back he was determined not to let anyone down.
"Because the team in Rescue Helicopter sure don't let people down. They prevented me losing my leg and that meant I was physically capable of saving that guy so their rescue of me has had a huge impact on others."
Northpower and Top Energy will match public donations up to $150,000 and those who donate $5 or more can be in to win one of 30 helicopter rides.
- © Fairfax NZ News