It's been another busy year for Northland's rescue helicopter crews, with 894 call-outs (as of last week) and the addition of two new choppers to its fleet, one of the region's largest-ever aviation projects.

CEO Paul Ahlers said the number of rescues was tracking towards the 2018 tally of 999, the busiest 12 months on record since the service began 30 years ago.

Meanwhile the two new choppers, which would be fully operational once the final stages of pilot training were completed (which was due before Christmas) would replace their ageing predecessors and enable growing demand to be met.

"It's been a busy year for the team, not only because of the number of rescue missions, but getting our two new helicopters ready for lift-off has been by far our biggest project since taking our maintenance in-house in 2016," Mr Ahlers said.


"The team have worked tirelessly to get these helicopters ready to fly, and they've done a brilliant job of ensuring the life-saving service Northland Rescue Helicopter provides is future-proofed."

Since January the rescue choppers had recorded an average flight time of 75 minutes per mission, meaning the pilots had amassed around 67,578 minutes, the time it would take to fly to Japan and back 47 times.

The year began with the airlifting a teenage girl from the Bay of Islands to Whangārei Hospital after she was injured by a boat propeller, other notable missions including flying a man in his 50s to Whangārei Hospital from Mangawhai after the tractor he was driving rolled on top of him.

Pilot Rhys McLachlan, who joined the service this year, had moved his family to Whangārei for what he described as a "dream role for a helicopter pilot."

"You work with great machines, a really good team, and make a difference to people's lives. When you help another human you are achieving in life, and we get to do that every day," he said.

All Northland Rescue Helicopter pilots were currently undertaking extensive training in the two new Sikorsky choppers, and Mr McLachlan was enjoying testing the machines' capabilities.

"Helicopters are amazing machines. You can land anywhere in them. You can land in the weirdest of places and go anywhere in them — you can do it all in a helicopter," he added.