Mission possible

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LIFESAVER: Carew brothers and Westpac Rescue Helicopter ambassadors Alan and Bob Johnston welcomed crew members including (from left) Tatsu Kuwasaki, Joy Edwards and Cam Horner as they flew in to Ashburton to launch Mission 2026.
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The Westpac Rescue Helicopter flew into Ashburton as it launched a $1.4 million fundraising campaign.

Mission 2026 aims to increase the response capability of the Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust’s helicopters by 20 per cent, and improve patient outcomes.

Among those on standby were Carew farmers, brothers Alan and Bob Johnston.

Alan said the trust and its helicopters were important for saving lives in Mid Canterbury. He would know.

After a heart attack in 2004, he had a metal valve implanted in his heart. In March 2021, he had just watched a game of rugby, at his home with Bob, between the Crusaders and the Blues.

He said he knew something wasn’t right as he could hear his valve ‘‘clicking’’, and things didn’t settle like they normally did.

‘‘Maybe I shouldn’t have got so excited about the game,’’ he joked.

Some time after the game, he stepped outside to get some fresh air. Bob came to check on him and rang the ambulance. Alan was suffering ongoing arrhythmia as his heart had skipped out of line.

‘‘I could hear it beating, in a normal person the beat would be 60, mine was 220,’’ Alan said.

‘‘I knew things were bad when the ambulance crew said ‘We are getting the helicopter’,’’ Alan said.

UP CLOSE: Alan Johnston (left), with Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust crew Cam Horner, next to the trolley similar to the one he was carried on during his lifesaving flight to Christchurch Hospital.

Alan was airlifted to Christchurch Hospital. A new helipad had recently been installed on the hospital’s roof, which was timely for Alan. He arrived just in time for the lifesaving services of the hospital’s cardiac team.

‘‘It’s so much quicker with the helipad than when they used to land in Hagley Park, and it would take nearly 15 minutes to get into the ambulance over to the hospital and to where the treatment began, ’’ Bob said.

‘‘I’d only been home 10 minutes when the phone went, it was (brother) Alan ringing from the hospital. They had ‘zapped’ him and he was okay,’’ Bob said.

Alan said despite the dire situation he had been in at the time, he remembered his life-saving helicopter ride.

‘‘I was chatting away to the paramedics and crew, and looking at the view out of the window,’’ Alan said.

Today Alan and Bob are ambassadors for the Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust, publicly speaking about the rescue helicopters and their own experience.

‘‘Each year more and more people are needing the service and each year it costs more and more to operate it,’’ Bob said.

They are big supporters of Mission 2026.

Funds raised will go towards new H145 helicopters, expanding Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) operation to allow helicopters to fly and land in low cloud conditions, new technology and medical equipment and specialised training for pilots and crew.

RESCUE FLIGHTS: In the pas year the rescue helicopter has flown 143 missions in Mid Canterbury – 47 per cent for accidents, 26 per cent for transfers, 15 per cent medical and 12 per cent search and rescue.

Others at the launch included Sue and Ted Rollinson, who also spoke of their Westpac Rescue Helicopter experience.

Sue said when the couple arrived in Dorie she realised there wasn’t a doctor close by who would available to come to the farm if needed.

‘‘From our share milker’s English father who fell off a roof, to a worker from the Philippines, the service has been there, no questions asked.

‘‘And no cost to the patient, unlike other countries like Australia where the ambulance wouldn’t transport a patient until they paid for it,’’ Sue said.

“This is a service everyone can call on if something happens.

‘‘The Westpac Rescue Helicopter is an absolute lifeline for us, and they are such a well-organised service,” Sue said.

“One of our young farmer neighbours lost his arm in a terrible tractor accident, the helicopter arrived within minutes and saved his life,” she said.

“All farmers should be aware of the service and how vital it is to them, if we don’t donate it won’t be available to us.

‘‘We have to support them now, because we never know what will happen in the future,” she said.

About 70 people attended the launch, held at Ashburton Airport on Thursday last week.

Among the crowd were representatives of businesses and community groups including Lions and the Ashburton Menz Shed, which presented the trust with $2000.

In 2023, the service attended close to 1000 missions across the region, an 8 per cent increase on the previous year.

It serves 600,000 people in communities from Kaikoura down to Waitaki, and from Karamea to Haast.

In the last year, it has flown 143 missions in Mid Canterbury – 47 per cent for accidents, 26 per cent for transfers, 15 per cent medical and 12 per cent search and rescue.

Seventy seven of the missions have been for status 1 – immediate threat to life or status 2 – potential threat to life patients.

On average across the whole service, 7 per cent of patients have been under 16 years old.