Big Rescues Recognised

Crew of the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters were delighted to be recognised for their courage, skill and bravery at the annual New Zealand Search and Rescue (NZSAR) Awards recently held in Auckland.

On May 25, 2019, a family of three were enjoying their day on board their boat when they came in to difficulty trying to cross the unforgiving Port Waikato bar. Thrown from their boat, with daylight fading and the weather conditions against them, there was a very real chance that none of the family would make it out alive.

It was the combined efforts of the New Zealand Police Air Support Unit, Kariaotahi Surf Life Saving Club, Coastguard Waiuku, Coastguard Papakura, Coastguard Northern Communications and St John New Zealand, together with your Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter, that turned what could have been a tragic day out on the water into a successful rescue story.

Pilot Johnny Stanton, Intensive Care Paramedic Casey Drum and Air Crew Officer Vasya Makhinko accepted the NZSAR Gold Award in Operational Activity for this mission. Pilot James Tayler was unfortunately unable to attend the awards night.

On October 14, 2019, Auckland Westpac Rescue crew learnt of another disaster unfolding 37km north of Cape Brett. Four people were on board the sinking yacht 'Essence' and it was a race against time to get them to safety.

It was the collaborative efforts of the Maritime Operations Centre, the New Zealand Rescue Coordination Centre, Royal New Zealand Air Force, Coastguard Bay of Islands and your Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter that saved the lives of three of the crew that day. Sadly, Tauranga sailor Stewart Pedersen died.

Pilots Roger Hortop and Norman McDonald were able to steady Westpac Rescue Auckland's Leonardo AW-169 aircraft, while Crew Chief Mark Cannell carefully winched Intensive Care Paramedic Karl Taylor into five to six metre swells to attend to the distressed sailors below. Intensive Care Paramedic Marcel Driessen delivered time-critical patient care in the back of the helicopter that day. For their courageous efforts, crewmembers received a NZSAR Certificate of Achievement for Operational Activity.

Unfortunately Norman and Mark were unable to attend the awards night. Survivor Bruce Goodwin however was able to make it, making the occasion extra special.

"I was overwhelmingly impressed with the crew of the helicopter that day," Bruce recalls, "Looking up as they winched me from the huge seas, I could see their practiced hands swapping karabiners over and I knew I was in the hands of some very competent people. The rescue was executed to such amazing time. I am sure another ten minutes would have meant that we would have lost another one of my survivor buddies."

Bruce says he is deeply indebted to the Westpac Rescue Auckland crew but he is also aware that the rescue helicopter and crew could not operate unless part of a larger team that was just as dedicated and competent.

"I feel so blessed to be part of a country that has compassion enough to throw so many assets at four people in need at a moment's notice without hesitation."