$1m needed to keep chopper saving lives

By Genevieve Helliwell

For people throughout the Bay of Plenty, the sound of an approaching helicopter can be a lifesaver - literally.

The TrustPower TECT Rescue Helicopter made more than 100 flights in the past 12 months, assisting people who had been in head-on collisions, motorbike crashes, forestry incidents and accidents at home. The helicopter transferred patients from hospital to hospital, assisted with police in search and rescue and was involved in Rena response and continued monitoring.

Pilot Art Kowalski said each time the rescue helicopter took to the skies, it cost about $1000 an hour to fuel, plus about $1000 more in maintenance costs. To maintain and operate the service, it cost about $1 million per year.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter ambassador and former All Black centre Frank Bunce was in Tauranga yesterday to mark the eighth annual Westpac Rescue Chopper Appeal. Although he had never needed the services of one, Bunce praised the rescue helicopter for its lifesaving ability.

"Accidents can happen any place, any time, to anyone. I could be next, or it could be you," he said. "There is no official funding and I'd hate to think that this service couldn't get off the ground because there's not enough money to do it."

Bunce took a flight over Mount Maunganui and Papamoa with Tauranga Boys' College students Aidan Ross and Hakeem Kaitai, Mr Kowalski and paramedic Bill McNeilly. Bunce said he didn't particularly like helicopters but would welcome one if his life depended on it. It was Hakeem's first flight and he said it was a thrill.

The appeal is held throughout May. As Tauranga does not have a Westpac rescue service, money collected in the Western Bay goes to the TrustPower TECT Rescue Helicopter.

Next Friday, collectors will be out in Tauranga, where more than $80,000 was raised last year. Steve Boocock, branch manager of Westpac 11th Ave, said he hoped people would be as generous this year.

Nationally, more than 5000 people were rescued by various rescue helicopter services last year.

Westpac has supported rescue choppers in New Zealand, as full sponsors or associate sponsors, for 30 years.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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