August 2019 has been the busiest month of the year so far for crews on Canterbury’s Westpac Rescue Helicopter, with 61 emergency callouts across the region for a range of trauma and medical incidents. August also marked a very special milestone for the service, with the introduction of a brand new H145 rescue helicopter—the first of its type to be used for EMS (Emergency Medical Services) in New Zealand. Christchurch’s rescue base now operates two rescue helicopters, with the H145 ZK-IGI on 24/7 standby and the BK117-B2 ZK-HJC on 10/7 standby 365 days.
GCH Aviation and Westpac Rescue Pilot, Matt Boulcott, said “The H145 has increased range, engine power and space. There’s nothing better than going to a remote place and rescuing someone where you know you’re their only option out of there. It’s pretty rewarding if you can do something like that”. Intensive Care Paramedic, Chris Harrison, said of the clinical set-up “There’s a lot more space to work in and having all our medical equipment mounted in one place will make a huge difference; the H145’s set-up is the gold standard of clinical care”. These attributes, as well as advanced avionic and autopilot features including auto hovering and auto leveling on approach, are raising the bar in emergency air response for the region and mean a greater level of patient care can now be offered to the people of Canterbury.
The H145 went into service on 14 August, and its first job was to Porter Heights ski area to uplift a young male skier with a shoulder injury. While the 2019 ski season got off to a slow start due to the late arrival of Winter’s first substantial snowfall, August saw the Westpac Rescue crew responding to 18 ski field callouts in total. Patients were also flown from Mt Hutt, Mt Cheeseman, Mt Olympus, Roundhill, Tekapo Ski Field and Broken River with injuries ranging from an unstable leg fracture through to a Status 1 head injury, where the patient required RSI (Rapid Sequence Intubation) on scene.
Three separate incidents on fishing vessels during the month required the use of the H145’s winch system. The first incident saw the Rescue Helicopter crew winching a male with amputated fingers from a fishing vessel 40NM off the Amberley coastline, then three days later the crew was required to winch a fisherman with suspected sepsis from a vessel offshore from Westport. Both patients were flown to Christchurch Hospital for urgent treatment. The following week, the Rescue Helicopter crew was called on again to winch a crewman suffering heart palpitations from a vessel off the Hokitika coast, and transport him to Greymouth Hospital for treatment.
Medical emergencies and patient transfers also kept the Rescue Helicopter crew busy, with 32 patients requiring urgent medical intervention for conditions including stroke, suspected meningitis, sepsis, chest pain, cardiac arrest, respiratory difficulties, labour complications and hernia. The Rescue Helicopter crew flew a total of 57 patients during August.
In a fairly even split across the region, the Canterbury crew flew 19 missions across North Canterbury, 21 in the Mid Canterbury region, 18 to South Canterbury and 3 to the West Coast. Two separate avalanche incidents in the Mt Cook National Park area resulted in patients being located and flown to Christchurch Hospital for treatment, while a serious motor vehicle accident near Rangiora saw a motorcyclist with multiple leg fractures flown to Christchurch Hospital in Status 2 condition.
21% of EMS callouts during the month occurred after hours, with the use of Night Vision Goggle equipment. The introduction of Night Vision Goggles has been one of the most important enhancements to improve service capability and responsiveness in recent years. Further enhancements are planned over the next 12 months, with the development of IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) routes that will enable the Rescue Helicopter to be flown safely in conditions that have previously precluded the deployment of helicopters. Routes are being planned for Tekapo, Timaru, Ashburton, Christchurch and Kaikoura, and the Trust will soon be launching regional fundraising campaigns in these communities to help support the implementation costs.