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Northland Rescue Helicopter pilot returns after 16 years

Peter 2-126Helping people and saving lives is in Peter Davies’ blood.

When it comes to flying helicopters there’s not much the Northland pilot hasn’t done, from working on heli ski and tourist operations on Mt Cook through to agricultural flying and ferrying park rangers around Zimbabwe.

Peter, who has been flying since 1980, always wanted to fly an emergency medical service helicopter like the Northland Rescue Helicopter, operated by the Northland Emergency Services Trust.

He first got a taste for rescue work when he was an agricultural pilot and would be called in to assist in search and rescue emergencies.

“This was long before we had dedicated emergency medical service operations like the Northland Rescue Helicopter. Back then the agricultural pilots were jacks of all trades, and that sort of flying and rescue work made me realise I wanted to help people, so I guess it’s in my blood,” he says.

His passion for rescue work resulted in his first stint with the Northland Rescue Helicopter from 1996 to 1998. During this time he was given the opportunity to fly the newly acquired Sikorsky S-76 helicopters purchased to handle increasing demand and saw the Northland operation’s flight capability surpass any other rescue helicopter service.

While work on oil and gas contracts in Qatar, Iran, and Thailand have kept Peter overseas for the majority of the last 18 years he says returning to Northland has always been what he wanted to do.

And with three university-aged children in New Zealand, Peter describes being back at the Northland Rescue Helicopter as “one very lucky coincidence.”

“It just so happened that the downturn affecting the oil and gas market coincided with a vacancy at the Northland Rescue Helicopter. I feel like a circle in my career has been completed.

“Pilots, well most of us anyway, aspire to the best positions possible that offer the most challenges. That is something the service offered me back in 1996, and has again in 2016,” he says.

Peter says the scale of the operation has changed dramatically since the late 90s and early 2000s.

“It has always been a community driven organisation and will continue to be, but it’s also evolved into an innovative and go-ahead organisation with its own flight simulator for pilot training, a certification to undertake its own aircraft maintenance, and fundraising efforts to rival any rescue helicopter operation.”

He says the ongoing advancements are reflected in the work load the service can handle and its efficiency rate, with the three helicopters now able to provide an almost 100 percent dispatch rate.

Peter says another big advancement since he was last at the Northland Rescue Helicopter is the introduction of night vision goggles and high-tech GPS routes

and instrument approaches that have drastically increased flying capability and safety.

“Back in the day, winching and landing at night in remote places put huge pressure on the skills of the pilots and crewman. We only had a searchlight on the helicopter so we relied heavily on the ground emergency services to prepare and light the landing zone.

“Nowadays with night vision goggles and GPS routes, which detail specific altitudes and headings to be flown in certain areas, we’re much more capable and assured and that enables us to undertake rescues and provide medical treatment to patients in remote locations and during severe weather.”

Recently Peter and the team responded to a callout at midnight, rushing a woman in premature labour to Auckland’s intensive care maternity unit.

“The patient was in the care of a highly skilled paramedic and an accompanying midwife and in no time she was airlifted to hospital. That in essence is the reason I love my job and get huge satisfaction from doing it.”

CHALLENGE: Back home in Whangarei, pilot Peter Davies feels like a circle in his career has been completed. – PHOTO/Emma Davies

“Back then the agricultural pilots were jacks of all trades, and that sort of flying and rescue work made me realise I wanted to help people, so I guess it’s in my blood.”

- Peter Davies
Northland, give generously to support service

More than 7,590 rescue missions were undertaken by local rescue helicopters around New Zealand last year including 880 patients carried in Northland alone.

As part of this month's nationwide Westpac Chopper Appeal, the Northland Emergency Services Trust is asking Northlanders to give generously and get behind their local helicopter.

The Appeal aims to raise funds and continued awareness for the 16 rescue helicopter services operating around the country, with all donations going back to the region they are collected from.

Westpac's Director of Corporate Affairs, Sue Foley, says the country's rescue helicopter services often make a life or death difference for many New Zealanders.

"We never know whose turn will be next to need the service which is why it's important we all give generously as every donation counts."

n Donations for the 2016 Westpac Chopper Appeal can be made at any Westpac Branch or at chopperappeal.co.nz
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