Island fights for helicopter

By Wayne Thompson

Waiheke residents raise money for new landing pad as rescue service faces funding cut.

Of the 759 missions the Westpac helicopter flew in 2011-12, about 45 per cent were to Waiheke and the other Hauraki Gulf islands. Photo / APN
Of the 759 missions the Westpac helicopter flew in 2011-12, about 45 per cent were to Waiheke and the other Hauraki Gulf islands. Photo / APN

Waiheke Island residents have rallied to help the Auckland rescue helicopter service which made 265 trips there last year and needs an all-weather landing pad.

A licence to occupy a permanent place with navigation aids at Onetangi Sports Park has been granted by Waiheke Local Board commissioners after $120,000 was raised by the community.

Events included a residents' function at Man O' War Vineyard where MC John Hawkesby auctioned an evening at his home, a day sailing with Brad Butterworth and a barbecue with Sir Peter Leitch and Sir Graham Henry.

The event was organised by resident Michelle Boag, who is a trustee of the Auckland Regional Rescue Helicopter Trust.

Its chairman, Murray Bolton, said he did not live on Waiheke but would not want to without the rescue helicopter service.

Out of 759 missions in 2011-12, about 45 per cent were to Waiheke and other Hauraki Gulf islands.

He said the trust had not looked to Auckland Council for a capital handout for the pad and instead the community stepped up.

This week, the trust will appeal to the body which allocates council rates money for amenities not to cut its annual grant for operating costs by $300,000 to $900,000 for 2013-14.

Mr Bolton said the cut meant having to raise the shortfall from public donations at a time when there was talk of "funding fatigue".

Waiheke Local Board chairman Faye Storer said the present landing site was at a privately owned airfield which could get fogbound and was further away for an ambulance to reach.

"The trust has taken the initiative on this. They have worked with the movers and the shakers in the community to raise money and have made the site licence application to the council."

Ms Storer said she and other local board members, Jo Holmes and Don McKenzie, would make their personal feelings on the funding cuts known to the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Board.

"I know a number of people who have been taken to hospital in the Westpac helicopter ... accidents, heart attacks, going into labour early ... the rescue work is important to the islands and it's increasing."

Local board member Mr McKenzie said the allocation was neither adequate nor sustainable and offered no surety of service to residents.

He said Waiheke's 8500 permanent residents and Rakino Island's 90 property owners relied on the helicopter for emergency transfer services to Auckland.

Rescue flights

Helicopter flights to islands 2011-2012

* Waiheke Island 265 (256 previous year)
* Great Barrier Island 46 (44).
* Other Gulf islands 23 (21)
* Total Auckland missions 759 (701).

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 20 Apr 2014 16:36:32 Processing Time: 430ms