Axing the region's rescue helicopter could cost lives, Rangitikei MP Ian McKelvie and Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron have warned.

Both politicians are among many in the region objecting to the Government's proposed axing of the Greenlea rescue helicopter at Taupo.

"The service was started 33 years ago by long-time Manawatu resident John Fennell in 1985. It's been vital to the central North Island and the tourist trade for all those years."
McKelvie said the need for the service has been highlighted by the fatal Mt Ruapehu bus crash in July.

"With rising visitor numbers to the region and long road distances for emergency vehicles to travel, the Taupo helicopter is a strategic service that should be retained."


The Government's review of rescue helicopter and air ambulance services aims to split the North Island into two regions — Area 1: Auckland/Northland; and Area 2: the rest of the North Island. The proposal for Area 2 would see helicopter bases at Hamilton, Tauranga, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, Palmerston North and New Plymouth with Taupo and Rotorua missing out.

Ruapehu mayor Don Cameron has spoken of the "golden hour" response time that the Taupo helicopter service provides and fears that lives will be lost if it is discontinued.

Tenders for a reshuffled air ambulance service across New Zealand closed in May with the Ministry of Health due to announce its decision shortly.

Cameron said that he, along with Taupo mayor David Trewavas and Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick and supported by Rotorua District Health Board representatives, met with Health Minister David Clark in April to voice their concerns.

"We all felt at the time that our meeting with the minister was very constructive and that our concerns would be taken into account in the decision-making process," he said.

"While we all support the improved patient care objectives of the tender process, we stand firmly by our argument that the central North Island area with its unique terrain, and often extreme weather patterns, needs local pilots and crews with intimate local knowledge who are able to respond quickly to any event."

The mayor said for rescue workers, the first hour after a traumatic injury is when emergency treatment is most likely to be successful.

Adding an extra 20 or 30 minutes to flight time when hypothermia is often a factor could mean the difference between life and death, he said.


Cameron noted that local communities are always generous with donations for what they see as their local rescue helicopter service.

"With a good chunk of funding coming from public donations, it remains to be seen if the loss of a rescue helicopter service would affect public donation from that region."

He said the increasing demands on rescue helicopter services may require new thinking about how they can be funded such as a compulsory levy or insurance cover for tourists.