Rugby showdown raises rescue chopper awareness

A showdown between two rugby greats to raise awareness about the work Westpac Rescue Helicopter does saw one Hamilton man thrown at their mercy.

Graeme Clear was selected by Sir John Kirwan to join his team, which inevitably proved too good, winning the "Chopper Challenge" against Team Richie McCaw.

The challenge involved a helicopter underwater escape, CPR drills, rope climbing, a simulated winch rescue swim, 3.3 kilometre run and a stretcher run.

Clear was one of 12 recruits selected to take part after registering in a nationwide Facebook competition.

Participating in the event was significant for the 34-year-old because his life was once in the hands of the rescue helicopter team after he was shot in the face with a nail gun at work.

The nail was lodged in between Clear's eyeball and eye socket, missing all the nerves to his eye and stopping 1mm from the main artery to his brain.

Clear was lucky his eye was saved - it came in handy for the challenge, which he described as "entertaining."

"It was great to be on JK's team as he was one of my idols growing up. It was good to be able to experience what the chopper crews go through and see the skills you need for this type of work."

Kirwan said the challenge allowed ordinary Kiwis to experience what the chopper crew did.

"I think both teams left with respect for what a hard-working and vital service the rescue helicopters provide New Zealanders." Contributions to fundraising for your local chopper service can be made at any Westpac Branch or online at

Waikato Times