Coastguard Hibiscus got to see one of New Zealand’s newest Westpac helicopters in action during a rescue training session in Hobbs Bay on October 24.
This was Coastguard Hibiscus’ first training with the AW169 helicopter, which joined the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) fleet late last year, at a cost of $15 million.
Training day exercises for the Coastguard crew included winching someone onto the boat from the helicopter and back up again, as well as experiencing the wind and sea spray created by the helicopter hovering over the boat.
Two volunteer “survivors” were pushed overboard, so that St John paramedics could winch them up from the water.
All exercises were first practiced on the well-used dummy Bob, who was drowned, rescued, and thrown from the aircraft.
While the new helicopter has already been put to work, it is currently visiting Coastguard crews throughout Auckland to train as many people as possible before the busy summer season.
The Italian-made carbon fibre AW169 weighs almost five tonnes including the medical gear inside – much bigger than the organisation’s older BK117 aluminium helicopter that weighs under 3.5 tonnes.
Both ARHT chief air crew officer Mark Cannell and ARHT pilot James Tayler are Hibiscus Coast locals.
Mark says there is also much more space inside the new helicopter, which made all the difference when the crew completed a recent four-person rescue off Cape Brett peninsula.
“We could fit everyone in at once and had good access to either side of the patient,” he says.
“We came back with nine people in the helicopter, which would have been a struggle in our old machine.”
Pilot James Tayler says being able to fit more medical gear in the helicopter can also be a lifesaver, allowing the paramedics to do more for their patients en route to hospital.
AHRT’s fleet includes another identical AW169 that was purchased early this year, and the BK117.
While a few of the participating Coastguard Hibiscus crew have taken part in helicopter training before, for many, it was their first time.
Mark says the training with the Hibiscus crew was very successful. “The way they used their local knowledge, like knowing where to get the boat into calmer water, made the training much easier and helped us out a lot,” he says.