Missions aplenty for new rescue chopper

20:04, Jan 19 2012
Tim Douglas-Clifford
THE OFFICE: Nelson Marlborough Rescue Helicopter Trust pilot Tim Douglas-Clifford in the pilot's seat of the new twin-enginedBK 117 helicopter.

Rescue pilot Tim Douglas-Clifford's new office is a lot more complicated but for him the job remains the same  getting the team to the scene and returning safely with the patient.

Tim has been flying helicopters for 28 years, with the last six spent flying the Nelson Marlborough rescue helicopter.

He will now be flying the new BK117 rescue helicopter - a significant upgrade from the current Squirrel, with two engines instead of one, and "a lot more dials and switches"  although he says, "flying is flying. The office is the office".

The new helicopter offered a lot of benefits to make that job easier, he said. For starters, as a pilot he would now be separated from the patient, which was an advantage, he said.

"It means we don't get involved with patient care, and don't get involved with the dramatics of the injury, whereas with the Squirrel, the patient was right by your side."

Additional navigation systems also mean the helicopter can fly through cloud and the double engine gives it better range and endurance, increasing its offshore capability to deal with things like boats in distress.


Since he began rescue flying in 1984, Tim has noticed many changes in technology and equipment, legislation which "doesn't allow us to do what was the norm before", and medical practices and equipment.

But one of the biggest changes was just how often the Nelson helicopter was being used, going from 40 missions a year to about 400, as the service proved its reliability, safety and how much more efficient it was, he said.

What could be a four or eight-hour road trip could become a 30 to 45-minute flight in most areas of the region, he said.

While some people might think a trip to Kaiteriteri was a "bit of a waste of resource", people had to remember in the middle of summer with busy traffic it could take an ambulance an hour and a half to get to Nelson.

"But it's only a five-minute flight for us, and for someone who's already sick, that's really good.