New Waikato chopper 'will save thousands'

The number, calibre and generosity of people at the official launch of the new state of the art rescue helicopter for the Waikato-King Country was a tribute to the value Kiwis place on human life.

The 300-strong crowd who gathered at Hamilton Airport yesterday included Prime Minister John Key and generous Tirau couple Brian Ward, 89, and his wife Joan, 87.

The Wards were among the 4321 friends of the Westpac rescue helicopter who contributed $517,101 to the $4.5m cost of the machine.

While Mr Ward said the service had become a necessary part of Waikato life, he hoped never to call on the new ZK-IRU chopper.

"They've got the ability to save lives," he said. "We watch the programme on television and there's no doubt about it, some people wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the rescue helicopter."

Radio host Mark Bunting opened the formalities with a moment's silence for Nelson Mandela who died hours earlier. It was fitting in a way.

The room was filled with people dedicated to fixing and rescuing people including staff from Waikato Hospital, police search and rescue and St John.

The upgraded helicopter is fitted with the latest technology, and will even be able to fly through darkness and zero visibility.

Essentially, it's making the Waikato a better, safer place to live and visit, Mr Key said.

"I think the way to think about these things always is one never knows when you're going to need the services of our emergency staff.

"Whether it's an accident, a heart attack or a health condition, there are a variety of circumstances and you never know when adversity's going to strike.

"The truth of the service provided here, and around the country, is that they have literally saved the lives of thousands of New Zealanders. And that wouldn't be possible if it wasn't for the generosity of you as individual donors and of the corporations that support these services."

After the speeches wound up, the crowd walked to the tarmac where part of the Phillips Search and Rescue Trust fleet was parked. The IRU chopper was blessed and then came the big moment - the cutting of the ribbon.

Mr Key was handed the over-sized scissors and couldn't resist pretending to cut organiser Kylie Harcourt's hair.

The crowd lapped up the humour. The bow was cut and then everyone got a close look at the machine that is destined to save many lives across the region.


The Westpac Rescue Helicopter is equipped with:

A two-person rescue winch to extract and rescue people from remote areas and at sea.

Night vision capability to enable landing at night in remote areas.

Enhanced engine performance to allow full fuel loads to be carried on all missions. 

Waikato Times