New Zealand's only marine ambulance saves more than 100 patients in first year
It's wet, windy and there is a medical emergency in the Marlborough Sounds. The patient is critical and can only be reached by boat. The Coastguard Marlborough crew hop into their state-of-the-art marine ambulance and speed into the night.
"It was blowing 70 knots," operations officer David St John recalled.
"It was a difficult job, but because of the new boat, new gear and well-trained crew it went relatively smoothly."
The patient was brought back to shore and survived the night, one of more than 100 people who have been whisked to safety by Coastguard Marlborough and its new boat over the past year.
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"We've had a few jobs where it could have been really nasty, but the boat performed," St John said.
The $1.1 million Bluebridge Rescue boat was the first marine ambulance in New Zealand, and had performed 80 missions since launching in Picton last year.
The Queen Charlotte Sound has 600 homes that can be accessed by water only, and St John says it is integral to support those remote residents.
"People in the Sounds are really appreciative when they see us coming around the corner," he said.
"It was a big investment and commitment into this boat, but that money has been well spent."
The boat has been used in a variety of missions, including search and rescue, medical evacuations, fire responses and one offshore search which saw the crew travel more than 150 nautical miles.
The custom-built boat, which can reach top speeds of 50 knots and reach the outer Sounds in less than an hour, has performed better than expected in its inaugural year, St John says.
"It's only getting busier in Picton, and we wanted to future-proof this for the next 20 years," he said.
"It's a really awesome asset to have for this community ... we're fussy boat people but there hasn't been one situation where we haven't been happy with the boat."
Five years of fundraising and generous donations helped towards the funding of the boat, and St John says it has become a key safety feature for people in the Sounds.
- The Marlborough Express