Garrie Griffiths helped save dozens of lives as one of the first crew on the Lowe Corporation Rescue Helicopter.
But he never thought he'd get a chance to fly in the chopper again, let alone as a patient.
Griffiths was chopping back bamboo in his garden in Havelock North in July when he started feeling pain in his chest and quickly realised something was wrong.
He called to his wife Marion, who immediately called 111. A St John Ambulance was dispatched and paramedics identified he was having a heart attack.
They administered thrombolysis medication, which dissolves blood clots that have formed in blood vessels.
His condition was deemed serious and he was taken directly to the hangar at Hawke's Bay Hospital and from there, flown to Wellington Hospital for a stent to be inserted, with results from an ECG (electrocardiogram) undertaken by paramedics during the flight sent directly to the waiting specialist while en route.
Griffiths' family made their way to down to Wellington to be with him where he spent a few days before being released back home where he has been recovering.
The helicopter experience was a marvel for Griffiths, given his storied history with it.
An active diver, even today, he was first approached about joining the fledgling Hawke's Bay rescue helicopter service in 1984.
Inspired by the Westpac service in Auckland, local policeman Chief Inspector Paul Wiseman decided to set one up having identified a need for a dedicated retrieval and transportation system for critically ill patients in the region.
Initially established for water rescues, in 1989 it was expanded to include patient transfers, police searches, accident recovery and marine emergencies.
Back in those days, the volunteer crewmen relied on a pager system and a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter, which was owned by Wanganui Aero Works and used for agricultural spraying.
It was later sold to Mike Groome of Te Onepu Helicopters and continued doing part-time rescue work - farm gear had to be removed before crews responded.
"It wasn't used very much as an air ambulance," Griffiths said. "It's a mobile hospital [nowadays]."
Some of the more memorable events he remembered attending during his nine years as a crewman, and then time as chairman, included a slip falling on people at Cape Kidnappers and a policeman getting lost in the bush.
Griffiths said raising funds for the service in the early days was done by appealing to local charity groups, adding "everything we bought was by donation".
"We had no money or helicopter."
The service has come a long way since then, he said, adding the new Bolkov Kawasaki 117 B2 used for his transfer was "a Commodore compared to a Mini".
"It was a big change but it's a great service.
"I wonder how we survived without it. It's saved a hell of a lot of people's lives."
Wife Marion said she knew he was in safe hands the moment he was in the chopper.
"We are all beyond grateful for the care he received ...
"It is nice to know that the work he did in those early days ensured that the service was here for him when he needed it."
Griffiths said he has since been back to see the crew and offer his thanks.
"It is hard to know how you can thank someone for saving your life but I knew Marion's home baking was a great start.
"I never thought I'd need it but you never know."