Without the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, hundreds of Kiwis wouldn't be here today. To mark the annual appeal we talk to people whose lives were saved.

It was a beautiful day on the Coromandel, the sun was shining, the water was glistening and calm as a group of friends boarded a boat for a day off shore.

It was Boxing Day 2006, and it's a day Kelly and Dion Lawson will never forget.

"It was just a typical Kiwi summer day with water skiing, fishing - the works," said Kelly.

"The next thing I knew I was waking up two weeks later."


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A pod of dolphins started to put on a show near the boat and Kelly, who loved the marine mammals, went and sat up front for a better view.

Dion watched in horror as one of the dolphins leapt up and out of the water and came down on the front of the vessel, hard.

The impact threw him and a mate backwards through the windscreen.

Another mate was tossed into the water.

Everyone scrambled, in shock, to get the man back on board.

It was only then that they realised what had happened to Kelly.

The dolphin, estimated as weighing around 350kg, had landed right on top of her causing severe injuries.


"When I got to Kelly she wasn't responsive to anything, she was struggling to breathe," Dion recalled.

"She was gasping."

Kelly's injuries included a crushed pelvis, broken collar bone and vertebrae and all but one of her ribs were broken.

The broken ribs had also pierced and punctured both of her lungs.

She could breathe in, but could not get the air back out and it was accumulating in her chest, causing her to puff up.

Dion was terrified. Was he about to lose the love of his life?

Kelly with the love of her life, Dion Lawson. Photo/Brett Phibbs
Kelly with the love of her life, Dion Lawson. Photo/Brett Phibbs

With the help of boaties nearby, including an off-duty nurse who boarded Dion and Kelly's vessel to render whatever first aid she could, and the Harbour Master, they got the injured woman to shore.

There, they fought to keep her stable as they waited for the rescue helicopter.

When Dion heard the sound of the chopper approaching, relief swept over him.

Then intensive care paramedic Chris Deacon came hurtling across the beach to the group.

As he approached, Kelly went into respiratory arrest, meaning she stopped breathing because her lungs were failing.

Chris had to move fast and he pulled out his gear.

He performed a procedure on Kelly that he had done just once before in his career; a procedcure most paramedics will never have to use.

"I had blown up like a puffer fish," Kelly said.

"He had to push needles into specific places in my lungs to release the pressure ... if he put them in the wrong place by even a millimetre he would have killed me.

"He couldn't measure me to see where the needles should go in because I was so puffed up, so he measured on himself and then he did the procedure right there on the beach.

"If he wasn't there at that specific time, there's no two ways about it: I wouldn't be here.

"He definitely saved my life."

Chris managed to stabilise Kelly and they loaded her, with a worried Dion at her side, into the rescue helicopter.

Waikato Hospital was the closest but Chris made the call to fly further north to Auckalnd City Hospital as he knew Kelly would have a better chance with all the right specialists on hand.

Dion said the flight was terrifying but he will be forever grateful to the crew for their efforts.

As Kelly's lungs were damaged, the chopper had to stay at a low altitude. Instead of flying straight to Auckland the pilot had to navigate around hills and power lines to keep the craft at a level that wouldn't put the injured woman in more danger.

"It was like something out of a movie, when we came over the harbour we were only about 5 metres above the water," Dion said.

Kelly spent two weeks in a coma and to this day has no memory of the incident that made international headlines.

Dion and Kelly Lawson with their children Alyssa,7, and Jack, 5. Photo/Brett Phibbs
Dion and Kelly Lawson with their children Alyssa,7, and Jack, 5. Photo/Brett Phibbs

It was two months before she was well enough to go home, and to this day she still suffers from back pain and other health issues related to the dolphin crushing her.

But she has no complaints.

A year after the accident Dion proposed and the couple are now married with two children, 7-year-old Alyssa and Jackson, 5.

It's a family that could never have existed without Chris Deacon and the crew on the rescue chopper that day.

"They are phenomenal people," Kelly said.

"We have kept in touch with Chris and we consider him a close friend now; he's a pretty special man.

"I believe there was a reason Chris was the paramedic that day, I wouldn't be here without him."

Kelly and Dion now regularly donate to keep the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter running and urge others to do the same.

"We need to keep them there. They are are incredible people," said Kelly.

"Without them, I wouldn't have married the man of my dreams, we wouldn't have two little monsters ... I simply wouldn't be here."

May is the annual Westpac Rescue Helicopter appeal month.
Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter aim to raise at least $200,000 by June 30.
To donate to the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter click here

The facts: Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter

• The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) operates two Westpac rescue choppers.
• The helicopters are BK 117-850D2.
• The service covers 1.4 million people in the Auckland and Coromandel areas.
• They undertake about 1000 missions each year.
• Each mission costs around $8000 and although they get some funding, more than half of that cost is met through donations.
• Missions include emergency medical transfers, casualties/accidents and assisiting police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue.
• The ARHT is the only rescue helicopter service in New Zealand to carry emergency trauma doctors on board.
• The ARHT is the only rescue helicopter service in New Zealand to carry whole blood on board, enabling the medical team to provide blood transfusions at the scene.