If it wasn't for the team on board the Westpac Rescue Helicopter there may have been three deaths at a West Auckland swimming hole earlier this year.

In February the crew were called to Cascades Falls after siblings Denver and Mitch Woolley and their mates Nathan Phillips, Jason Lee and Sosiveta "Sosi" Turagaiviu got into trouble while swimming.

A sudden downpour caused a flash flood in the normally placid creek below the swimming hole. Nathan and Jason were able to swim to the riverbank but the other boys were swept away.

Denver managed to hold on to a tree and was eventually winched to safety by the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.


"They saved my life," the teen survivor told the Herald recently.

Tragically, Mitch and Sosi were killed.

Following the tragedy classmates at Massey High School rallied around in support of the boys. Wanting to recognise the actions of the rescue crew they also held a fundraising gala in October where $10,000 was raised.

That money was enough to sponsor two helicopter rescue missions in honour of the two boys who died.

Today the Herald tells the stories of the people involved in those missions following the school's prizegiving last week where they meet Denver and the chopper crew for the first time.


More than a month on from a horror head-on crash that critically injured a 4-year-old the Faaaliga family are still healing.

Auckland mum Stacey Faaaliga was driving her three young boys home after spending the day connecting with whānau in a long-awaited reunion.

She does not remember getting in the car, the crash, being trapped, or rescuers pulling her out of the wreck.


Her eldest son, however, does. At just 8 years old he did not know how to get everyone out of the car and had to wait for firefighters to use the jaws of life to free Faaaliga.

The crash closed a section of SH1 between Hautapu Rd and Nisbet St, just north of Moerewa, as emergency services frantically worked to save the family.

The driver of the other car had allegedly fled the scene of the October crash.

Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter at the scene of the crash in Moerewa on Sunday night. Photo / Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter
Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter at the scene of the crash in Moerewa on Sunday night. Photo / Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter

Faaaliga suffered multiple fractures and breaks including two that pierced the skin exposing bone.

"I was in ICU for two and a half weeks," Faaaliga said.

While her family never gave up hope and had "no doubt" she would pull through, they were also in a way bracing for the worst, she said.

When she came to Faaaliga's first thought was of her three young sons.

Youngest son Liam, 4, had sustained severe brain injuries and is still in rehabilitative care today while his mum continues to recover in Auckland City Hospital.

He had to learn how to walk, talk and pick up toilet training all over again.

A lot of it had to do with his short term memory, she said.

Faaaliga said she was hugely grateful for the help of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

"We will forever be grateful, and appreciate the support that they gave to us really," she said.

"Had they not taken Liam ... the outcome could have been devastating.

"It's a long recovery process and the hardest thing is the separation."

Scrolling back through family photos it was so clear they were an active family, she said.

They loved going for runs and playing hockey together, she said.

Faaaliga said she felt so grateful for everything her husband Liga was doing to look after the family, which included taking out all of his annual leave to be there for them.

"He's such a supportive husband and father to my children."


Paige Robinson with Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew chief Mark Cannell. Photo / Dean Purcell
Paige Robinson with Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew chief Mark Cannell. Photo / Dean Purcell

Paige Robinson was one of two teenagers urgently airlifted to hospital from a St John youth camp on Motutapu Island on October 20.

Kerikeri High School student Dion Hodder was the first to be picked up by helicopter but sadly died later that night due to meningococcal disease.

After dropping the 16-year-old at hospital the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter headed back to the island to pick up his girlfriend Paige.

Paige had become a cadet for St John at just six years of age, and had diligently worked her way up the ranks while holding future aspirations of becoming a midwife.

She enjoyed the training, which had always been about how to look after yourself and others, she said.

Paige was attending her third regional St John youth camp, which had drawn more than hundred young people onto the Island, when she also became ill.

She too exhibited symptoms of meningococcal disease, which is notoriously fast moving and can be difficult to diagnose.

"I was mostly feeling okay, it was Saturday around lunch time I started feeling a bit sick," Paige said.

She started vomiting, and suffered headaches and drowsiness.

The teenager knew she was "not feeling hundred per cent" and began to experience fever and shakes.

When the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter medical team arrived they ran through her vitals to make sure she was stable before putting in an IV line, she said.

They then put her on stretcher and carried her into the helicopter, she said.

"We basically just took off from there."

The helicopter whisked her to hospital in a matter of minutes, where tests fortunately come back negative for meningococcal disease.

"It was really amazing what they [the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter] did," Paige said.

There was no way she could have gotten medical help any sooner without them, she said.

Paige said she felt so grateful for the hard work that they do.