Kiri is a digital journalist for bayofplentytimes.co.nz.

Community comes together for 'thank you' from Tauranga rescue helicopter

When people rescued by Tauranga's charity rescue helicopter ring to offer gratitude afterwards, some are so thankful they offer to pay for the cost of the flight.

When they are told a TECT Trustpower Rescue Helicopter mission costs $6700, they awkwardly explain they cannot afford a donation of that size.

Communications and marketing manager Vanessa Richmond said while it was incredibly generous for former patients to offer what they could, the charity's priority was rescuing people in need. It was completely understandable an individual couldn't afford the flight cost.

"The other stuff we can worry about later," she said.

Giving back to the community was the main reason behind a rescue helicopter open day at its Tauranga base yesterday. The helicopter's emergency service support partners joined in on the day, offering inside peeks at fire trucks and the helicopter while also showing kitchen fire and armed police demonstrations.

Members of the Tauranga Ulysses Touring Group also got involved with a healthy contingent of black leather-clad riders braving the hot sun while waiting in line for a free sausage sizzle.

Ms Richmond said the Clarke St helicopter base cost $1.1 million a year to run and the charity was grateful for the support it received from organisations and individuals, many of which were at yesterday's event.

Last year the helicopter carried out 199 rescues. The year before there were 191.

"It has been steadily increasing," Ms Richmond said.

"The reality is more and more people need the use of the rescue helicopter for whatever reason and it just reflects how much we need the generosity of the public."

Like many rescue helicopters around New Zealand, Tauranga's chopper received no government funding and relied solely on donations and sponsorship.

Pilot Liam Brettkelly said the open day was the charity's way of "giving back" to the community.

Land Search and Rescue's Grant Nordick said the organisation worked closely with Mr Brettkelly and the rescue helicopter team. The volunteers also had a display showing the ways they helped in situations from lost trampers to missing children or confused elderly.

"We are often involved with the helicopter. If they can't winch at night, maybe they will land somewhere near and one of our members might guide a paramedic to the place they need to be."

Tauranga mum Fiona Torr took daughters Georgia, 3, and Ella, 11 months, along for the day.

"We love helicopters and we haven't been in one yet. They kept asking to go in one and I thought this was the closest way we would be able to. And it's a good cause as well and very useful to have and they just don't get enough funding," she said.

The Tauranga rescue helicopter is one of five operating around the North Island under the Phillips Search and Rescue umbrella.

Collectively, funds generated through the community and sponsorship covered half of the annual expenses required to operate the rescue helicopters in each Hamilton, Manawatu, Rotorua, Tauranga and Taupo.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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