The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter operation has taken delivery of a twin-engine BK117 helicopter, replacing the current single-engine Squirrel that has served the region for the last 18 years.
Over the next couple of weeks, the Tauranga-based crew will be in a transition period with both machines being available for emergency and air ambulance work.
On Monday at about 10am, the Trustpower TECT crew where dispatched to the Eastern Cape settlement of Te Araroa.
The new BK117 was utlised, retrieving its first patient, a 55-year-old local woman who was suffering from a cardiac event.
The weather conditions presented the crew with some challenges on the way to the remote East Cape settlement.
The woman was airlifted to Whakatane Hospital for treatment, says a spokesperson for the rescue helicopter.
Upon return to the Tauranga base, the crew was dispatched to Paeroa to uplift a local man with a serious medical condition. The man was flown to Waikato hospital for treatment.
Both missions were carried out by Pilots Liam Brettkelly and Barry Vincent and Crewman Callan Carn-Bennett.
"The BK117 is the most popular rescue helicopter in New Zealand and also around the world.
"It’s an extremely useful combination of multi-role capability; high performance and agility with sufficient room to carry the crews and patients required across the very broad range of uses that rescue helicopters are tasked to in New Zealand.
This is a significant upgrade and it follows the lead of other Philips Search and Rescue Helicopter bases in the Waikato-King Country and the Manawatu-Whanganui.
"Moving to a BK117 will allow increased capabilities as an emergency service provider; the new machine will be fully equipped with the latest technology and equipment for rescue missions and medical emergencies," says base manager and pilot Liam Brettkelly.
"The BK117 is a more capable, modern and spacious aircraft to better service the Tauranga and Bay of Plenty."
Pilots Liam Brettkelly and Barry Vincent with the new BK117 at Te Araroa.
The BK’s rear cabin is larger allowing for medical staff to work on patients more freely while airborne.
Being is twin engine the BK117 is faster than the Squirrel allowing the crew to get to patients more quickly and into densely populated areas.
"Operating a BK117 increases the annual operating costs of the Tauranga base, however, the cost is outweighed by the benefits of a more modern machine and avionics, and the safety benefits, such as crash-resistant fuel tanks, seats and structures.
"The increase in cost is yet to be fully determined once the most suitable machine is sourced.
"The upgrade is initially being fulfilled by a lease helicopter while Philips Search and Rescue Trust source and fit out the best machine for the community."
The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter Service carried out 203 missions last year, an increase from the previous year; many of these missions were conducted in challenging locations and in adverse weather conditions.
The Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter can be airborne in 10 minutes, and in a life and death situation, this speed and agility can make all the difference.
"It is the timely assistance that the Trustpower TECT Rescue Helicopter provides that can reduce disability and improve survival - the sooner resuscitation and treatment begins the greater chance of patient recovery.
"In fact, in most instances, the rescue helicopter reduces travel time by more than three-quarters in comparison to a road ambulance."