The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter operation has taken delivery of a twin-engine BK117 helicopter, replacing the current single-engine Squirrel that has served the region for the last 18 years.

For a few weeks, the Tauranga based crew will be in a transition period with both machines being available for emergency and air ambulance work.

The new BK117 was used for the first time to air lift a 55-year-old Te Araroa woman who was suffering from a cardiac event. The weather conditions presented the crew with some challenges on the way to the remote East Cape town. Soon afterwards, the new helicopter flew to Paeroa to airlift a man with a serious medical condition to Waikato Hospital.

Both missions were carried out by pilots Liam Brettkelly and Barry Vincent and crewman Callan Carn-Bennett.


The BK117 is the most popular rescue helicopter in New Zealand and around the world.

It has an extremely useful combination of multi-role capability — high performance and agility with sufficient room to carry the crews and patients required across the very broad range of uses that rescue helicopters in New Zealand need.

It is a significant upgrade and follows the lead of other Philips Search and Rescue Helicopter bases in the Waikato-King Country and the Manawatu-Whanganui.

"Moving to a BK117 will allow increased capabilities as an emergency service provider," says Brett.

"The new machine will be fully equipped with the latest technology and equipment for rescue missions and medical emergencies. The BK117 is a more capable, modern and spacious aircraft to better service Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty."

The BK's rear cabin is larger, allowing for medical staff to work on patients more freely while airborne. Being a twin engine, the BK117 is faster than the Squirrel allowing the crew to get to patients more quickly.

The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter can be airborne in 10 minutes and, in a life and death situation, this speed and agility can make all the difference.

Operating a BK117 increases the annual operating costs of the Tauranga base, but the cost is outweighed by the benefits of a more modern machine and avionics, and the safety benefits, such as crash-resistant fuel tanks, seats and structures.

The upgrade is initially being fulfilled by a lease helicopter.

The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter Service carried out 203 missions last year, an increase from the previous year; many of these missions were conducted in challenging locations and in adverse weather conditions.

The service is governed by the Philips Search and Rescue Trust, which is a charitable organisation, operating rescue helicopters throughout the Central North Island.

Philips Search and Rescue Trust relies on support from sponsors and community donations. This crucial financial support ensures the rescue helicopters can continue to bring life-saving equipment, rescue personnel, and trauma-trained medics directly to the patient.