Monday, 20 January 2020


Brand-new rescue helicopter's visit to Whitianga

By Stephan Bosman

The first of the two brand-new twin-engine rescue helicopters of the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT) was formally introduced last week to the New Zealand media. The Informer was able to take a closer look at the helicopter (registered ZK-HLH) at Crosby Field, the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga, on Friday afternoon last week.

Walter Russell, the founding chairman of the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust (CRHT), and Leith Jackson, the Crosby Field manager, were also present during the helicopter’s visit to Whitianga.

Crosby Field is owned by the CRHT. The base was developed with enormous support from the residents and ratepayers of the Coromandel Peninsula. The ARHT is operating an air ambulance service from the base. Huge public backlash caused the government late last year to abandon their intention to close the base.

The ARHT’s new AgustaWestland AW169 helicopters were manufactured in Italy, and will over time replace the two BK117 helicopters the trust is currently operating. The trust’s second AW169 helicopter is expected to arrive in New Zealand later this month.

The new helicopter was flown to Whitianga on Friday by ARHT pilots Rob Arrowsmith and Rob Anderson.

“There’s a lot about the cockpit of the AW169 to like,” says Rob Arrowsmith. “It’s well thought-out and the ‘man-machine interface’ is very user-friendly. What’s really exciting, however, is the improved way the helicopter will enable us to look after the patients in our care.

“There’s a lot more space at the back, which means we can comfortably carry more than one intensive care paramedic or medical doctor, and procedures that are at the moment performed at the scene of an incident, either next to the road or in the back of an ambulance, can now be performed in the helicopter en-route to hospital.

“The new helicopter will really enable us to bring the hospital to the patient.

“In addition, the helicopter has a longer range than the BK117 and cruises at 135 knots instead of 120 knots. A unique built-in anti-vibration mechanism will also ensure a smoother ride for the patient.

“Another feature is a piece of very clever engineering which allows an auxiliary power unit to be run without the rotor blades turning. That means the AW169 can remain fully lit inside after we’ve arrived at an incident and before we take off again. The BK 117 goes completely dark on the inside once we’ve landed and switched off the engines.

“The rotor blades of the new helicopter aren’t much longer than the blades of the BK117, which means we can continue to fly relatively close to a cliff face if required. Both of our AW169s will be equipped with winches.”

The AW169 also has better instrument flight rule [IFR] capabilities than the BK117. “The CRHT and the people of the Coromandel have done a fantastic job in ensuring GPS approaches are available to us at most of the major centres on the Peninsula,” says Rob Anderson. “The AW169 will enable us to make use of the approaches more efficiently. In reality, the helicopter’s IFR capabilities are ahead of what New Zealand aviation legislation currently allows for.”

Both Rob Arrowsmith and Rob Anderson, as well as some of the other ARHT pilots, trained to fly the AW169 in Italy. “It’s quite an involved process to get type-rated on the helicopter,” says Rob Anderson. “In addition to hands-on flying, a lot of study is required. Our pilots who haven’t travelled to Italy are now training on the new helicopter in Auckland.”

The ARHT expects to introduce the new helicopter into service by April this year. “We’ll initially use the helicopter in daylight visual flight rules [VFR] operations,” says Rob Arrowsmith. “In due course we’ll progress to night-time VFR flying and after that to IFR operations. It’s a ‘crawl, walk, run’ exercise. We hope to have both new helicopters in full service by the end of the year. We’ll continue to use the BK117s while we bring the new helicopters online.”

Crosby Field will undergo certain modifications to accommodate the AW169. “The doors of the hangar on the base will be widened and a fixed 20,000l fuel tank will be installed,” says Leith Jackson.

Walter Russell is suitably impressed with the new AW169. “Years ago, when we established the CRHT, our aim was to provide the people of the Coromandel Peninsula with the best rescue helicopter service available,” he says. “When the government announced their plan last year to restructure air ambulance services across New Zealand, which included the closure of Crosby Field, they said they wanted to provide better patient care to all the people of New Zealand. They should be very pleased that they’ve backtracked on their decision to close our base in Whitianga. The ARHT’s new AW169 helicopters are absolutely world-class. In my book they will provide all of us on the Coromandel with not just ‘better patient care,’ but some of the best patient care available anywhere in the world.”

Pictured are Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust pilots Rob Arrowsmith (on the left) and Rob Anderson (second from the left) flew the trust’s brand-new AgustaWestland AW169 helicopter to Crosby Field, the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga, on Friday afternoon last week. Welcoming the new helicopter at the base was Walter Russell (on the right), founding chairman of the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust, and Leith Jackson (next to Walter), the Crosby Field manager.  


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.