17 May, 2023
Northern Rescue Helicopters Ltd, operators of the Northland Rescue Helicopters and Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters, say they are humbled to take home the Gold Award: Operational at the 2022 New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards held at Parliament on May 16.
Crew of the Northland Rescue Helicopter had something extra special to celebrate being their first time to receive the top national award.
They were formally recognised alongside emergency partners the Northland Police SAR Squad, Police National Dive Squad and Maritime NZ Rescue Coordination Centre, as well as crews of the Florence Nightingale and Pacific Invader and Kobe O’Neill, for their outstanding rescue efforts when the charter fishing vessel Enchanter capsized off the North Cape on the evening of March 20, 2022.
Award recipients, pilot Lance Donnelly, co-pilot Alex Hunt, and critical care paramedics Josh Raravula and Paul Davis, aboard the Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopter NZ-HQO, had a significant task to perform on the night of the rescue and were humbled by the acknowledgement alongside the many stakeholders whose efforts helped make a difference.
“We have the utmost respect for the first responders we work with 24/7, along with all the volunteers in our community working hard to keep each other safe,” Donnelly says. “That teamwork was apparent on the night of the Enchanter rescue when we all pitched in and backed each other in our collective efforts to find survivors.”
In testing weather, it was Captain Donnelly’s tight team of four who were responsible for retrieving survivors from the swollen waters under the darkness of night. The rescues would require a lot of courage and the best of their skills and abilities. After retrieving three people from the hull of the Enchanter, they would brave the conditions again to perform a second set of difficult and hazardous winch retrievals.
Two more lives were saved as a result.
“We didn’t know what to expect before arriving in the search area, so we prepared for multiple scenarios. Locating five survivors and bringing them back to safety and their families was an amazing feeling,” Davis reflects, “This was certainly one of the most challenging rescue missions our organisation has been involved in.”
Survivor Shay Ward says this year’s top recognition is well-deserved.
“The guys at Northland Rescue Helicopter flew into the unknown risking themselves on March 20th to save us,” Ward says, “We are all so grateful for them and what they did, they deserve all the accolades possible for what they achieved.”
“With eleven nominations for the Gold Award: Operational, this recognition is significant particularly for the Northland Rescue Helicopter service,” says Northern Rescue Helicopter CEO Craig Gibbons, “It’s well-deserved and we couldn’t be prouder.”
“The Enchanter rescue took place at night, in a remote location, during turbulent weather. It demanded an incredibly high level of skill and teamwork between agencies with no margin for error,” says NZ Search and Rescue secretariat director Duncan Ferner.
The NZSAR Council also acknowledged other agencies who contributed to the significant search and rescue operation, including the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter team who were actively involved in recovery efforts for two days following the capsize utilising their state-of-the-art Leonardo AW-169 helicopters.
The Northland and Auckland services combined have undertaken over 50,000 missions to date and average over 2000 missions a year across the Northland, Greater Auckland, Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel regions.
n To support the Northland Rescue Helicopter visit nest.org.nz. To support the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter visit rescuehelicopter.org.nz.
From left, Northern Rescue Helicopter CEO Craig Gibbons, critical care paramedic Paul Davis, pilot Lance Donnelly, co-pilot Alex Hunt, chief air crew officer Mark Cannell, critical care paramedic Josh Raravula. PHOTO/MARK COOTE