After more than a decade, Whitianga does not have a locally based rescue helicopter for its busy summer holiday period.

It comes as the Coromandel population swells with holidaymakers enjoying the crystal-clear water and golden beaches. And it has prompted concerns lives will be at risk.

But the Ministry of Health says residents "should feel reassured that there are highly capable helicopters nearby" and its 10-year modernisation programme aims to provide a better on-board clinical service for the country.

The wider Coromandel Peninsula would now be serviced by two air ambulance providers: the Northern Rescue Helicopter Limited (NRHL) and Central Air Ambulance Rescue Limited (CAARL). Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) sits within NRHL as a subcontractor.

Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust chair Brian Bowering said a locally based rescue helicopter during the peak summer period was a vital service in respect to the region's terrain and remote accessibility.


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Bowering said the decision to remove the helicopter based in Whitianga had left the community up in arms - "they're gutted".

"We spent in excess of a million dollars on a helicopter base in Whitianga to serve the area."

Now the hangar and the four-bedroom crew house was sitting empty.

"Just a matter of three weeks ago we got the news that in fact we are not having a helicopter over summer here at all, it will fly in and fly out on demand.

"We've been short-changed. We've been ripped off.

"We want the helicopter back here."

MP for Coromandel Scott Simpson called the removal of a helicopter based in Whitianga a disgrace and likened the move to "a huge slap in the face" for locals and visitors.


Simpson was in Whitianga this morning and expected over the next 48 hours the wider peninsula would experience peak population - an estimated extra 100,000-plus people.

"It's very hard to know, but the traffic streaming in over the past few days has been incredible."

Simpson said the people of Coromandel had always given generously in fundraising efforts to support a locally based helicopter service over that busy summer period.

That facility was purpose built and funded entirely by the community, something north of a million dollars, he said.

It saved precious time during an emergency and without it lives were at risk, he said.

Thames-Coromandel had the oldest aged demographic of any district council in the country, he said.

"There are people who are at risk of heart attack and all sorts of medical misadventure.

"And then of course of you have all our visitors, who are in many cases holidaying, sometimes they are unfamiliar with the roads which are challenging at times.

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"A whole of people are spending recreational time on the water and in the bush, doing things they maybe wouldn't normally do and that often involves physical risk."

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said under previous arrangements, the Coromandel Peninsula had four air ambulances that responded to callouts.

"It now has eight (jointly from NRHL and CAARL). In saying that, the air ambulance system takes a nationwide approach," she said.

"While Coromandel Peninsula sits within CAARL's contracted operational region, the providers do not have exclusive operational boundaries, which means they can operate within each other's region."

The Air Desk had oversight of pre-hospital air ambulance callouts, she said.

"It knows where the closest and most appropriate air ambulance assets are," she said.

"Despite not having an air ambulance physically based in Whitianga, the residents there should feel reassured that there are highly capable helicopters nearby, and robust processes in place to clinically assess and respond to their medical issues."

ARHT has been operating under the requirements of a new government contract since April 1, that included having two fully crewed helicopters based in Auckland at all times of the year.

In previous years, ARHT had chosen to base a helicopter at the Whitianga hangar over summer.

"While the decision has been made not to base a helicopter at Whitianga this summer, the Trust will continue providing its full service to the Coromandel community from our Ardmore base," ARHT acting CEO Michelle Boag said.

"While we wish everyone a safe summer, patients needing our help will benefit from significantly upgraded clinical standards of care.

"This includes the introduction of two medical staff on board every flight and the recent introduction of two brand new Leonardo AW169 rescue helicopters."