Monday, 18 January 2021


Rescue helicopter bequests a lasting legacy

Living on the Coromandel has many pluses. Great beaches, friendly people and a real sense of community spirit. The Peninsula also has incredible emergency service staff available at the end of a phone call. It is often said that you can get to hospital quicker from the Coromandel than if you were to suffer an accident or medical event on the outskirts of Auckland and that’s something Auckland resident, Ian Robertson, was very grateful for back in January this year.

It was a fine day when Ian set off from Paeroa on his motorbike. “I was expecting to be back in Auckland for lunch,” he recalls. “Instead I ended up laying in a ditch amongst the mud, water and cow dung, suffering serious injuries and with only a vague recollection of how I got there.”

Local witnesses and crew members from the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters have been able to fill in some of the blanks since that day, although Ian remembers how it started. Somewhere along a rural road, out of a hedge bordering farm paddocks, a girl had appeared on her motorbike and failed to slow down as she left the track. A t-bone collision with an unsuspecting Ian was unavoidable. He flew through the air approximately 15 metres, bounced on his body and head for another 15 metres, before hitting a large concrete culvert and landing in the ditch.

Ian remembers being strapped to a board and put inside a rescue helicopter. The rest is a blur, until he walked out of hospital two weeks later with some “spectacular purple and black bruises, a cast on one hand, a bag of medications in the other,” and a sense of gratitude that he was, as determined by a couple of hospital staff, a miracle motor biker.

There are many miracle rescue stories which may never have been told without the support of the community in getting behind the local Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust (CRHT). But while donations are vital to ensure the rescue helicopter crews get to their next mission, the long-term survival of the rescue helicopter service requires a different kind of support - a focus on the future. The two brand-new AW169 Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters required a fair amount of savings and if it was not for the generosity of a select few, those helicopters would still be a long way off. So how did those special supporters make a difference? They left a gift in their will and created a lasting legacy. The impact of their gift will go on to save many more patients like Ian, because bequests are not about death, but about life.

Although Ian still suffers from debilitating migraines, he is very grateful at only receiving broken hands, a head injury and shredded tendons, which he admits is “significantly preferable to dying.” When asked recently how he felt about having a helicopter available to him in his time of need, he answered, “The phrase ‘the deepest sense of gratitude and appreciation’ is accurate, but still falls a long way short.”

Marcel Driessen is an intensive care paramedic on board the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters and has treated many patients, like Ian, who are grateful for his and the rescue helicopter crews’ services. Marcel too is grateful and is humbled by the deep sense of community and the generosity of the people he encounters on the Coromandel. “Back in 2012 our service was extremely lucky to have the backing and support of the Coromandel community in building a helicopter hangar and crew accommodation for us in Whitianga,” he says. “Ever since that day we’ve been blown away with the letters, donations, events held to fundraise for us and just the general appreciation we get from the local residents.”

One such local, Ted Ramsbotham, has been the recipient of two rescue helicopter rides with Marcel and loves to show his thanks in his own special way - through the donation of his home-made jams. “I come down and visit the rescue helicopter crews when they’re here in Whitianga and give them a few jars,” he says. “I haven’t had any complaints yet,” he continues with a smile.

Kuaotunu residents, Bill and Lorraine Muir, recently met up with Marcel and were able to express their gratitude at the treatment Bill received when the unexpected happened earlier this year. Lorraine recalls that Bill was acting strangely after coming in from the garden. “He just wasn’t himself at first,” she says. “Within a very short space of time, his speech became slurred and his face drooped. I knew then he was having a stroke and we needed to get help fast.” With ambulance staff just having to make the short drive to the CRHT’s Whitianga hangar, it wasn’t long before Bill was up in the air and on his way to Waikato Hospital. “We were so lucky with the early treatment Bill received,” says Lorraine. “We certainly know how different it could have been.”

This is the sentiment of many on the Peninsula and at some stage in the near future the CRHT hopes to hold a “rescue reunion” to bring together patients and their crew, often for the first time since their rescue.

Evie Taylor and her parents, Jennifer and Brian, don’t have to wait. They were able to have their own mini reunion with Marcel recently, a much-anticipated event after Evie’s trip to hospital in February this year suffering heart problems. To show their support, they agreed to help the CRHT with their “Saving Generations” campaign. The purpose of which is to highlight another way that people can donate to the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters, through considering a bequest in their will. Through their own experience, Brian and Jennifer are hopeful that others will consider this form of support, which will help pay for capital items, such as vital medical equipment that is not funded by the government, and ensure a rescue helicopter service is available for the residents of the Coromandel for many years to come.

If you would like to support the future of the Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters, please see the envelope inserted in this issue of The Informer or call 08004RESCUE and ask for Kerrie.

Pictured: Auckland and Coromandel Westpac Rescue Helicopters intensive care paramedic, Marcel Driessen, outside the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust’s hangar in Whitianga.


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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.