By SHELLEY TOPP
The first call for help came less than an hour after the 7.8 earthquake hit at 12.02am on November 14.
Now the Westpac Rescue helicopter service is facing an emergency of its own.
Its hectic schedule of earthquake recovery work has placed extra pressure on operating funds and an emergency fundraiser is being held.
During the first week after the 7.8, the rescue helicopter completed 19 missions to the North Canterbury area. It has continued a steady service since then, including patient transfers from Kaikoura’s hospital.
The team has also transported medical personnel and important supplies to the region.
During this incredibly busy time it continued to deal with the usual demands such as medical emergencies, vehicle accidents, work-related injuries, leisure incidents plus search and rescue missions in North Canterbury.
The main rescue helicopter was moved to the hard-hit area of Kaikoura in the first week of earthquake recovery work and a rescue helicopter from Otago was deployed to Christchurch to cover the rest of Canterbury.
Canterbury West Coast Air Rescue Trust (CWCART) chief executive Christine Prince says the rescue team had additional crew members on standby to cope with the increase in missions and hours caused by the earthquakes.
The CWCART operates in partnership with Garden City Helicopters.
General manager of Garden City Helicopters, Simon Duncan, says recovery work after the Christchurch earthquakes had been busy, but it was nothing compared to the latest response.
“The sheer operational and rescue support required for the Kaikoura earthquake is unprecedented – with no road access air rescue is the only lifeline.”
Rescue crew chief Rick Knight says the structural damage they encountered was shocking.
“It is incredible to think of the force behind it. The roads are buckled in, ripped apart or completely covered by rock fall. People are understandably in a state of shock. Anyone who was in the Christchurch earthquakes will relate to this, that feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s the uncertainty of it all, he says.
The service provides a vital lifeline in emergencies, with more than 800 people rescued in 2015, but it is expensive to run.
Each mission costs an average of more than $8000, and only 30% of the costs are covered by Government funding.
For the rest of the money required to operate the CWCART relies on donations from individuals, families and businesses. The goal is to raise $7 million annually.
“We have excellent support from companies including Westpac a main sponsor, and local communities,” Christine says.
However, the earthquake response work had put extra pressure on the service, just before the holiday period, their busiest time of year, and this created an urgent need for more funds.
The goal of the fundraiser is to raise $300,000 by December 22. So far the response had been overwhelming, Christine says.