Helicopter boosts trust's air ambulance service

19:01, Nov 15 2012
Westpac Waikato air ambulance
The right machine: The new Westpac Waikato air ambulance, which is similar to this Kawasaki BK helicopter, will have the registration IRU – I Rescue U.

The Kawasaki helicopter will be ready for service early next year, reports Maryanne Twentyman . 

Emergency services in the Waikato are about to be strengthened by the arrival of a multimillion-dollar rescue helicopter.

Westpac Waikato air ambulance operator Philips Search & Rescue Trust has signed a deal worth between $4 million and $4.5m for the Kawasaki BK117-SD2 helicopter which arrived from the Solomon Islands last weekend.

The purchase has come as a big relief for trust secretary David Wickham who led an exhaustive worldwide search for potential rescue helicopters.

"It is huge for the region, and we have had to take our time getting the right machine for the area that is both easier to maintain and capable of meeting all Civil Aviation Authority rules," he said.

Built in 1995, the helicopter has completed 4900 hours of flying in Japan and the Solomon Islands, where it was sent to support Australian Defence Force personnel after political unrest in Honiara.


Mr Wickham said the helicopter had been fitted with a new rotor transmission this week, and upgraded engines were expected to arrive from the United States next month.

"Then there will be pilot training and of course the helicopter will be painted up in the Westpac colours ready for service by about mid February next year," he said.

Meanwhile, the 25-year-old Bell 222B, which completed 331 missions between January 1 and October 31 this year, will continue to service the Waikato region.

Once the new helicopter comes into service, the Bell will be kept by the trust as backup for when the new helicopter goes in for maintenance.

"Therefore the District Health Board will have a continuous twin-engine service," Mr Wickham said.

The new helicopter will boost the rescue capability of the Waikato service with a fitted winch and a night-vision goggles-compliant cockpit.

"The night-vision capability enables a far greater range of missions at night with a better level of safety."

Trust marketing and fundraising manager Kylie Harcourt said $1.8m had already been raised for the helicopter.

"The plan is to have $2m raised by the end of the year. I'm sure we, as a community, can do it, " she said.

She hoped the recently announced sponsorship deal with Greenlea Meats would help boost the profile of the service, particularly in the rural sector which is highly dependent on the air ambulance.

"I'd also like to acknowledge the 4000 Waikato families who donated everything from $5 through to $20,000, through the Friends initiative."