Flying and wood working are deeply anchored in the family of Northland Rescue Helicopter pilot Sue Dinkelacker.

With her parents both being pilots, Dinkelacker grew up flying gliders and helicopters in South Africa, while also learning to work with chisels in her parents' woodturning workshop.

Today, Dinkelacker doesn't only look back at long years as part of the Northland Rescue Helicopter team, but also successfully exhibits and sells her delicate woodwork – including some jewellery at the upcoming Creating with Kauri exhibition opening at the Kauri Museum on June 14.

While flying and wood sculpting may seem like opposites, both require a huge amount of concentration and attention to detail Dinkelacker says.

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"When flying a rescue mission, a split second can literally mean the difference between life or death. With sculpting, the smallest, most intricate detail can change things completely," she said.

"Helicopters were my first love; they are such 3D vehicles. With airplanes you drive them down a runway, but with helicopters you fly."

Dinkelacker first joined the Northland Rescue Helicopter team 12 years ago, before moving to Malaysia to work for aviation company CHC Helicopter flying to oil rigs in the South China Sea.

Susan Dinkelacker first started flying for the Northland Rescue Helicopter 12 years ago.
Susan Dinkelacker first started flying for the Northland Rescue Helicopter 12 years ago.

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Now back in Whangārei, where her husband opened Dinkelacker Woodworking, she returned to the rescue chopper service after clocking up almost 10,000 hours over three decades.

"With rescue helicopters in particular, you're exercising so many skills all the time - winching, landing in confined areas, chasing boats offshore. There's so much diversity," she said.

"For a pilot, New Zealand is a very challenging environment with its unpredictable weather, hills, and remote areas. We get such an amazing variety of callouts, anything you can possibly imagine. It's intensely interesting and satisfying."

To pass time while on standby for rescue missions, Dinkelacker fashions her wooden sculptures using hand chisels.

 'Winds of Change', a wooden torso cast in bronze, sold at the Sculpture Northland Exhibition for $19,000.
'Winds of Change', a wooden torso cast in bronze, sold at the Sculpture Northland Exhibition for $19,000.

It started out as a hobby and eventually turned into a full-time passion for a few years, culminating in her sculptures being commissioned and sold all over the world.

Specialising in wooden sculptures featuring a chisel-tooled finish, Dinkelacker strives to reveal the intriguing inner character of whatever she carves – from birds and animals through to the human form.

"I relish the smooth feel that sharp chisels leave on wood after the last crisp shaving is pared off. I like to see the chisel marks left on wood without being dulled by sandpaper."

Winds of Change, a wooden torso cast in bronze, recently sold at the Sculpture Northland Exhibition for $19,000.