Robert Brouwer sees the Westpac Rescue Helicopter pretty much on a monthly basis – and with 20 years of experience with Land Search and Rescue, he’s very familiar with the process.
Brouwer is the DoC ranger and hut warden on the Kauaeranga Kauri Trail in the Coromandel Forest Park – often known as the Pinnacles Walk.
“The most common rescue at the Pinnacles is for sprained or broken ankles,” Brouwer says.
“The walk is 6km with a lot of steps, so that type of injury makes it near impossible to walk out. In a similar vein, stretcher carrying out is also a significant challenge and could take five or six hours.”
Brouwer’s role is often being the first point of contact for the injured persons and he administers the initial first aid and looks after the patient until the chopper arrives.
He secures the pad at the Pinnacles hut for landing and crowd control, which can often include members of the public getting in the way as they try to take helicopter photos.
“I’ve always appreciated the professionalism of the helicopter crews and their good radio communication with me, which makes it easier for me to do my part,” he says.
Westpac’s Auckland Rescue Helicopter has already been tasked with four rescue missions to the Pinnacles so far this year.
During the Easter weekend a man in his 20s was rescued after he fell three metres while hiking in the popular spot.
“The patient was in an awkward spot where he could have fallen further down,” Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust communications manager Lincoln Davies said.
In January the crew also assisted a teenager with a fractured ankle, in February it was a man in his 20s with a possible fractured leg and in March they were called out to a man in his 40s with a medical complaint.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter pilot Rob Arrowsmith, who has a military background from the air force, says the main advantage of the chopper is the speed in which it can arrive over ground force ambulances.
“We can get to the Pinnacles in 23 minutes, the average rescues take between 10 to 20 minutes and then it’s a 25 minute flight to either Auckland or Waikato hospital,” Arrowsmith said.
“A month ago we had a confident rock climber near the Pinnacles run into trouble when his camel pack was ripped by a branch. He ran out of water and became dehydrated so he called for help. We picked him up and took him to the Pinnacles hut and hydrated him,” he explained.
“Most have been minor injuries, however the Pinnacles is a very remote area and not the place you want to be even if suffering something like a broken ankle,” Lincoln Davies added.
Easter weekend this year saw 12 rescues from the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, which was almost half as many as last year, but the busy Auckland service averages around 1000 rescues per year according to Davies.
It’s not only remote areas of New Zealand or adrenaline junkies that benefit from the rescue helicopters either, Waiheke Island is the Auckland chopper’s most frequented destination. The island accounts for almost one third of their annual missions and the rescues are mainly elderly residents who need a medical mission to hospital.