'Hoppy' pays tribute to crews of life-saving chopper service

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Steven Rastovich (L) knows how vital the Westpac Rescue choppers are - pilot Robert Anderson and crew helped save his life last year. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Steven Rastovich (L) knows how vital the Westpac Rescue choppers are - pilot Robert Anderson and crew helped save his life last year. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Steven "Hoppy" Rastovich says he owes his life to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew.

The 63-year-old truckie from Pukekawa, south of Auckland, was in a serious accident about 40 years ago which resulted in his left leg being amputated.

But in February last year, another truck accident almost lost him his other leg.

"It was just an ordinary day and I was driving down Onewhero, near Tuakau, when the tyre blew out," he said. "I had to drive into a bank to stop."

Mr Rastovich's right leg and his left prosthetic leg were crushed by the impact, and he was trapped inside the truck.

"My right leg was severely damaged. A hunk of steel went into it and took a chunk out - it was crushed below the knee."

Emergency services, including the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, were quickly at the scene and it took fire fighters 90 minutes to cut him free.

By then he'd lost a lot of blood and was flown to Middlemore Hospital.

"I had 17 packets of blood put in me. If it weren't for the helicopter boys, I wouldn't have made it," he said. "If we'd gone by road, I wouldn't have got past the Tuakau Bridge."

At the Mechanics Bay chopper base in Auckland yesterday, Mr Rastovich met some of the crew who saved his life to help them celebrate a record high for the annual Westpac Rescue Helicopter Appeal, which this year raised $451,596.

Last year, Westpac Rescue Helicopters around the country were called out to more than 5000 incidents, said Westpac national sponsorship manager Mark Graham.

"New Zealanders clearly respect and recognise the work that's done. These funds are a vital contribution to the helicopter trusts and will help them continue to provide this incredible service in their community."

Mr Rastovich said it wasn't until he'd been involved with the Westpac chopper that he realised how much the community needed to support it.

"I used to sometimes spot the Westpac helicopter flying over and think, 'I wonder who they're going out to? I hope that person lives.'

"And when you're the one that's rescued, it just makes you appreciate what they do."

ON THE WEB

Chopper Appeal website

- NZ Herald

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