Northland's Lynda Tracey is a keen tramper and she's off to do a five-day hike with friends in the Abel Tasman National Park.

The fit 61-year-old grandmother of three loves life and feels fortunate enough to still be able to make the most of the great outdoors.

But if it wasn't for the Northland Rescue Helicopters service 30 years ago her life could have been totally different.

Tracey, from Pamapuria, 10km east of Kaitaia, etched herself into the history of the rescue service when she became the first person to be flown by the Northland Rescue Helicopters service on November 17, 1988.


The rescue teams have now flown 20,000 people since the service started 30 years ago.

Last year 901 patients were transported and for the year to date 819 patients have been flown to hospitals.

"Life would have been totally different if it wasn't for the helicopter," Tracey reflects.

When the distinctive noise of the helicopters can be heard in the Northland skies, Tracey said it reminds her someone is unwell.

"I know someone is not in a good way but they are in good hands."

Tracey was a young mum of three with the youngest child just 3 months old when her health rapidly deteriorated 30 years ago.

Rescue of yachties off Northland's coast from the Northland Rescue Helicopter. Photo/ Supplied
Rescue of yachties off Northland's coast from the Northland Rescue Helicopter. Photo/ Supplied

Her symptoms of a cardiac episode simply were not ringing true, and she appeared to be suffering from something more serious.

"I was fine one day, with just a bit of a sniffle, then I woke up early the next day and with every breath I had a shooting pain down near my stomach,'' Tracey said.


Just two days after being established, the sole Northland rescue helicopter was dispatched to the carpark of the Kaitaia Hospital to pick her up.

It was not as well equipped as the three helicopters used by the service now and Tracey recalls holding a torch so the paramedic could take her blood pressure while on route to hospital.

"We landed at Kensington and went by ambulance to Whangārei Hospital, and I was in ICU for four or five days, before a similar stint in the ward and then back to Kaitaia Hospital.

''When I was at my worst my veins had collapsed and they were trying to pump blood out of my foot.

"With the helicopter, it was like, 'What's going on?' It just all happens around you."

Now Tracey works for the Far North REAP, a community development organisation based in Kaitaia, as the Finance Administrator.

Tracey will celebrate the rescue helicopter's 30-year anniversary by tramping the Abel Tasman.

Northland Emergency Services Trust chairman Paul Ahlers said the service had grown over the years to meet demand, and were now flying up to several times a day right across the wider region from Kaitaia to Auckland.

"With the continued centralisation of specialist health services, it's vital that Northland has a fast, reliable air ambulance service. One that is capable of getting them from the scene of an accident, or from hospital to hospital in the shortest possible time frame," Ahlers said.

He said although the rescue chopper had become a vital part of everyday lives, it remained only partially funded by the Government. The service continued to rely on donations and sponsorship to cover costs.

"That public support over the last 30 years is the only reason we're still here,'' Ahlers said.

"I'd like to acknowledge the contribution made by everyone associated with the helicopter over the last 30 years. The level of dedication and passion these people have for saving lives is incredible."