Vow to keep rescue service

KIRSTY MCMURRAY
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
tdn chopper stand
CAMERON BURNELL
Bryce Barnett and David Wickham are two key new apointments at the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.

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Taranaki's rescue helicopter will continue to save lives around the region with the trust regaining the support of crucial financial backers.

In August the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust announced it needed $400,000 to keep the aircraft in the air beyond Christmas and had been refused grants to tide it over.

On Friday New Plymouth businessman Bryce Barnett was made chairman of the trust and has promised the service will continue and the management improve.

"While I'm on watch we're not going to lose it and I think that's my commitment to the public. While I'm there it's to ensure we will provide a sustainable rescue helicopter to Taranaki for a long time."

Two new pilots have also been hired and trained, after the resignation of former pilots Sam Richmond and Fergus MacLachlan in September.

David Wickham, the secretary of the Phillips Trust, has also been enlisted as a trustee of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust.

The Phillips Trust, based in Taupo, runs the largest stable of rescue helicopters in the country.

Mr Barnett said the Phillips Trust was in no way moving to take over the running of the TRHT, but was simply offering its support in the form of Mr Wickham's expertise.

"Mr Wickham has many years' experience in the operation of a rescue helicopter service."

While no solid plan had been decided, Mr Barnett said the trust was in the process of investigating several sustainable ways forward and that, along with changes to the trust, had been enough to get major sponsors back on board.

"We have got a viable operation for some time yet. With what has been pledged and with the changes that have already happened, in the short term and the medium term, the trust is not at risk."

Mr Barnett would not say exactly where the funding for the helicopter to continue in the short term had come from.

"We have had support from every quarter. There's been lots of New Zealand community trusts and many big charitable organisations as well as the local community who have contributed."

He said TSB Community Trust chairman Hayden Wano told him the trust was supportive of the TRHT's new direction and Mr Barnett intimated the Taranaki Electricity Trust was in the same position.

"We have their conceptual support, which was not there before."

Both trusts have given millions of dollars to the chopper in the past decade, but this year turned down applications for extra operational costs.

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Mr Barnett said while the reinvigorated TRHT would focus on moving forward, rather than looking back, moving to a sustainable business model would ensure the helicopter was not caught short again.

"It's like any organisation and any charity, you can't keep pouring money down a black hole."

Although the outlook is positive, the new chairman expects the road ahead to be long and hard for the rescue helicopter.

"There's a lot of hard work to be done in the coming months."

- Taranaki Daily News

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