Whitianga gets helicopter base

MARYANNE TWENTYMAN
Last updated 14:01 03/05/2012
ON THE UP: An increase in the number of rescues
PETER DRURY/ WAIKATO TIMES

ON THE UP: An increase in the number of rescues in Coromandel has prompted the Westpac Rescue Helicopter service to set up a base in Whitianga. At first it will be only during holiday periods, but plans are that within three years it will be year-round.

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The increasing number of emergency rescues on the Coromandel has prompted the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to set up a $600,000 base in Whitianga.

Initially the base will only be operational at peak holiday periods, however there are plans for a year-round service within three years.

"That's certainly in the time-frame where it could be justified," Auckland-based Westpac Rescue Helicopter Trust chief executive Bob Parkinson told the Times.

The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust had its busiest year on record last year, performing 776 missions, 24 per cent more than the 628 in 2010, and a rise of more than 65 per cent in the past five years. It had done 71 in the Coromandel/Hauraki region so far this year.

Mr Parkinson said a year-round base would be dependent on volumes of work in the district.

"But they are steadily increasing at the present time."

He confirmed that Thames-Coromandel District Council had earmarked a 100-metre by 80m block of land adjacent to the Whitianga airfield for a helipad, hangar and crew quarters.

And while "costings were still being completed", Mr Parkinson said the tender process would probably incur costs over $600,000.

"The local community will be contributing towards that cost and we are in the process of forming a trust in the area," he said. "So the facility will be owned by that local trust and we will be assisting them with fundraising and also sponsorship from corporates and gaming charities."

Mercury Bay community board chairwoman Alison Henry said locals were thrilled with the developments.

"It's fantastic: the helicopter has been based here for the last two summer seasons and public holidays and in that time it has more than proven a valuable asset to our region," she said.

Hauraki Coromandel St John district operations manager Bruce MacDonald said the Westpac Rescue air ambulance was a vital support for local emergency services.

"From our point of view we are totally supportive; it will certainly help us in treating our patients and serving the community," he said.

He also welcomed news of a permanent structure and believed he would have the staff to resource a year-round model.

"We can already crew [Westpac Rescue] to a limited capacity, and moving forward we have staff progressing through to higher qualifications."

Mr MacDonald said he already had five advanced paramedics on the region's St John roster, which was "quite good for a district of our size."

Mr Parkinson hoped the new Westpac Rescue base in Whitianga would be operational by Labour Weekend.

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- Waikato Times

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