June 2023

By June 14, 2023June 28th, 2023No Comments


Northern Rescue Helicopters, operators of the Northland Rescue Helicopters and Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopters, say they are humbled to take home the Gold Award: Operational at the 2022 New Zealand Search and Rescue Awards held at Parliament last night.

Crew of the Northland Rescue Helicopter had something extra special to celebrate being their first time to receive the top national award. They were formally recognised alongside emergency partners the Northland Police SAR Squad, Police National Dive Squad and Maritime NZ Rescue Coordination Centre, as well as crews of the Florence Nightingale and Pacific Invader and Kobe O’Neill, for their outstanding rescue efforts when the charter fishing vessel Enchanter capsized off the North Cape on the evening of 20th March 2022.

Award recipients Pilot Lance Donnelly, Co-Pilot Alex Hunt, and Critical Care Paramedics Josh Raravula and Paul Davis, aboard the Sikorsky S-76C++ helicopter NZ-HQO, had a significant task to perform on the night of the rescue and were humbled by the acknowledgement alongside the many stakeholders whose efforts helped make a difference.

“We have the utmost respect for the first responders we work with 24/7, along with all the volunteers in our community working hard to keep each other safe,” Donnelly says, “That teamwork was apparent on the night of the Enchanter rescue when we all pitched in and backed each other in our collective efforts to find survivors.” 

Left to right: Critical Care Paramedic Paul Davis, Pilot Lance Donnelly, Co-Pilot Alex Hunt and Critical Care Paramedic Josh Raravula.

In testing weather, it was Captain Donnelly’s tight team of four who were responsible for retrieving survivors from the swollen waters under the darkness of night. The rescues would require a lot of courage and the best of their skills and abilities. After retrieving three people from the hull of the Enchanter, they would brave the conditions again to perform a second set of difficult and hazardous winch retrievals.
Two more lives were saved as a result.

“We didn’t know what to expect before arriving in the search area, so we prepared for multiple scenarios. Locating five survivors and bringing them back to safety and their families was an amazing feeling,” Davis reflects, “This was certainly one of the most challenging rescue missions our organisation has been involved in.”

Survivor Shay Ward says this year’s top recognition is well-deserved.

“The guys at Northland Rescue Helicopter flew into the unknown risking themselves on March 20th to save us,” Ward says, “We are all so grateful for them and what they did, they deserve all the accolades possible for what they achieved.”

“With eleven nominations for the Gold Award: Operational, this recognition is significant particularly for the Northland Rescue Helicopter service,” says Northern Rescue Helicopter CEO Craig Gibbons, “It’s well-deserved and we couldn’t be prouder.”

“The Enchanter rescue took place at night, in a remote location, during turbulent weather. It demanded an incredibly high level of skill and teamwork between agencies with no margin for error,” says NZ Search and Rescue Secretariat Director Duncan Ferner.

The NZSAR Council also acknowledged other agencies who contributed to the significant search and rescue operation, including the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter team who were actively involved in recovery efforts for two days following the capsize utilising their state-of-the-art Leonardo AW-169 helicopters.

The Northland and Auckland services combined have undertaken over 50,000 missions to date and average over 2,000 missions a year across the Northland, Greater Auckland, Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel regions.

To support the Northland Rescue Helicopter visit:
To support the Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter visit:

Left to right: PatriotX crew member Bruce Elwood, winch operator/critical care paramedic Paul Davis, rescue swimmer/paramedic Blake Murray, pilot Joel Higgie and PatriotX skipper Phil Dent. Photo / Michael Cunningham – Northern Advocate/NZME.


We are so proud of the efforts of our crews and the work they do for our community every day – particularly the way our Northland and Auckland rescue helicopters work together to support each other on certain missions.

In fact, they recently went above and beyond to rescue Australian crewman James Luddington who had fallen seriously ill aboard PatriotX.

The Northland crew flew from Bay of Islands Airport (after refuelling) to the vessel 150km offshore to winch the man to safety and fly him to Whangārei Hospital. They were closely backed up by our Westpac colleagues who flew in support to ensure back-up expertise if required.

It is worth remembering that these are missions they could not do without the expertise of our amazing Engineers who work so hard to keep our rescue choppers in top condition.

The outstanding teamwork between our two bases was on full display during the PatriotX mission in mid-May. A Whangārei crew and an Auckland crew met at the Kerikeri airfield to brief and to unfold a long-range offshore retrieval of a man experiencing a medical episode.

A winch retrieval so far offshore is a challenging mission. The ‘top cover’ mentioned below involved the Auckland crew on Westpac1 following Helimed5 out to ensure that if anything went wrong for either helicopter, they could affect their own rescue – very sound and sensible risk management and planning and great teamwork!

Just to re-cap, on May 12 the vessel ‘Patriot X’ had a sick crew member onboard and at 7.30pm was 130nm NE of BOI Airport, heading back to NZ. Helimed 5 and Westpac Rescue 1 (for top cover) flew to BOI Airport and refuelled to provide maximum range and time at the vessel to complete a winch rescue. HMD5 launched to meet the vessel at 100nm from the Airport, with WR1 following around 30 minutes later.

HMD5 arrived on the scene at 11.15pm, conducted a high line winch and departed for Whangārei Hospital at 11.40pm.

Weather and sea conditions were challenging and several dummy runs were conducted to confirm it was suitable to winch, with the vessels speed adjusted slower to minimise its movement in the swell. Westpac Rescue 1 was within VHF range and able to relay to the Rescue Control Centre, which allowed HMD5 to focus on the winch. Blake Murray (Paramedic and Rescue Swimmer) assessed the patient and was ready for a safe extraction with minimal delay.

We are pleased to report James has made a full recovery and is back farming in Australia.

In fact, the week after the rescue, PatriotX Skipper Phil Dent and crew member Bruce Elwood kindly visited the base to thank the crew and do a video link up with James, so he could also express his gratitude. In total, those involved with PatriotX have generously donated $7,000 to our cause – money which will be used very well.



Local road safety heroes are being praised for making Northland’s Road Safety Week the most successful one yet, with well over 100 people walking the Hātea Loop this week in recognition of our local road safety heroes.

The walk was also held to pay respect to the 38 people killed on Northland roads in 2022.

Northland Road Safety Trust’s Ashley Johnston says she was overwhelmed with the turnout for the walk and pleased students from Saint Francis Xavier teamed up with Bike Northland to ride the Loop.

“This is only the second year we have done the walk and I was so humbled to see so many people turn out in support of our road safety heroes and share their stories,” says Johnston.

We were proud to be part of the 2023 Road Safety Hero walk in support of Road Safety Week.

Raurimu Avenue School opened the event with a karakia and waiata, before Northland Transportation Alliance’s Nicole Cauty addressed attendees.

She paid tribute to the lives needlessly lost on Northland roads in 2022 and 2023.

“We need to acknowledge those who have passed but also be aware of the trauma friends and whānau are left to deal with, not to mention the life-long suffering many road crash survivors must life with,” says Cauty.

Both Johnston and Cauty believe everyone can play a part in making our roads safer by adopting safer driving habits and looking out for each other.

The event was well attended by Northland’s first responders – FENZ, Police, St John, Northern Rescue Helicopter and volunteers included.

The Road Safety Week theme was ‘Be a road safety hero’ by recognising everyone who helps make our roads safer, supporting people after a crash while understanding how we can all play a part in making journeys safer for everyone.


Northland Rescue Helicopter Critical Care Paramedic Paul Davis has leant his voice to road safety.


Northland Rescue Helicopter Critical Care Paramedic Paul Davis has seen plenty of carnage on our roads over the years – hurt he would much rather not be confronted with.

The father of two says seeing children injured is particularly challenging for him and his colleagues and he wants motorists to slow down on Northland roads and drive to the conditions.

“Road crashes are among the worst incidents we attend, and it really is a team effort from all first responders when at the scene.

“So my key message for drivers is to be extra vigilant around safety when at the wheel because it only takes a moment of inattention to change the course of someone’s life, resulting in devastating consequences. The repercussions can be huge,” says Paul.

Like the other 14 Paramedics in his team, Paul says there is a drive to provide a high standard of service to the Northland community and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

That is no better highlighted than by Paul’s involvement in the ‘Enchanter Rescue’ in March 2022 – a career highlight for him, Rescue Swimmer Josh Raravula, and Pilot Alex Hunt and Lance Donnelly.

Paul’s roles with the Northland Rescue Chopper Service are three-fold with the titles of Deputy Clinical Operations Manager and Paramedic Aircrew Officer Instructor added to his resume.

He was born and raised in Northland so enjoys being based in Whangārei.

“My university studies were undertaken at both Auckland University of Technology and Auckland University. I hold various undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications – including a Ph.D. in Clinical Science,” says Paul.

He was formally a soldier in the New Zealand Army and says it is a pleasure working with a great team of people at Northland Rescue Helicopter, something he has done since 2009.

Paul’s priorities outside work are spending time with his family, exercising daily, and reading.

For more information:

Left to right: Grant Robinson, Marge Paton, James Price, Greg Allen, Sue Dinkelacker, Albie Paton, Psalm Blockley, Glen Silva.


Northern Rescue Helicopter is the latest recipient of The Den Maungaturoto’s generosity.

Northland’s air ambulance service has been presented with a cheque for $30,000 to help with daily operational costs. This follows a separate donation from The Den of $10,000.

Den founder Albie Paton says he is passionate about supporting Northern Rescue Helicopter because of the important work it does in the community.

“Let’s face it, the crew members are among the best in their field and they provide a vital life-saving service for everyone in Northland,” says Albie.

“We all know someone who has been helped by our local rescue choppers, so it makes sense to do what we can to give back to them because they need our ongoing support to keep operating.”

Northern Region Helicopter spokesperson Steve Macmillan says he is immensely thankful for The Den’s generosity.

“With the support Albie and his team of volunteers gives us, he is ultimately an ambassador for our cause. Not only is he raising money to help keep us in the air, but he is also raising awareness in the Kaipara community about the role we play in flying people to a place of safety when they most need urgent medical attention.

“Let’s face it, our amazing crews are providing a life-saving community service 24/7 and we are ultimately owned by the people of Northland. We could not do what we do without the support of our community.

“The generous donations and sponsorships we receive allows us to invest in the best people, the best training and the best equipment. That means we are well prepared for the trickiest of situations when people need the help of our paramedics and pilots in the trickiest of situations.

“Donations like Albie’s help us by equipment crucial to our operation. For example, we must replace the helmets our paramedics and pilots use every ten years. They cost $5,000 each and we have just ordered 30 new helmets. That is why we are so grateful for the generosity of our Northland community and we never take that for granted because our people are part of the community too.”



We recently hosted a wonderful BBQ for Whangārei’s Sponsors and Ambassadors on Friday, and this was a great success with around 65 attending. It was great to get the opportunity to have a chat with some of the local community and thank them for their support.

Well done Jan Hewitt for this initiative and thank you to all who participated. A special thanks to Peter Scott and Cae Haupini for helping on the day ensuring everything ran smoothly.

CEO Craig Gibbons and NEST Chair Paul Ahlers expressed thanks to sponsors and ambassadors, stressing that without them we could not attract the best staff or purchase the best equipment needed to help care for our community.


The Taniwha Darts Association are participating in a 24 hour Dartathon to raise funds for Northland Rescue Helicopters.

From 9am on the 10th June to 9am on the 11th of June, 14 members – plus a handful of local celebrities – will be throwing darts and counting down from a score of 1,000,001 (that’s a lot of darts!).

The event will be held at Kamo Rugby Club and feature spot prizes, raffles and a live auction (5pm sharp on Saturday, June 10) over the 24 hours. Please get along to the event and support a great cause!

If you can’t make the event you can donate here:

One of the unique rugby jerseys up for auction.



Thanks to the team at Arcline for continuing their Silver Sponsorship of our service.

The Arcline team and family have used the Northland Rescue Helicopter on more than one occasion and encourage others to get behind our cause.

Arcline Architecture is an architectural design studio based in Northland, with offices in Kaitaia, Kerikeri and Whangarei and has been designing homes, buildings, schools, retirement villages and Marae around Northland for 30 years.

The generous Arcline team!



It was wonderful to see our friend and Northland Rescue Helicopter ambassador Shay Ward drop by the hangar this week.

Shay had been in the north with his fellow survivors commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Enchanter sinking. Shay was one of five people winched from the wreckage of the charter boat on March 20, 2022.

Shay’s partner Dee was pregnant at the time of the tragedy and she has since given birth to Reef. It was lovely to meet Dee, Reef and his sister Ayla!

The family are pictured Paul Davis (left), who was the winch operator on the night of the rescue, and pilots Peter Scott and Sue Dinkelacker.



We recently had the MoreFM Northland team around at the hangar for a thank you BBQ.

You see, they are always giving back to the community and helping others, so this was our chance to give back.

In 2020, 2021 and 2022 John, Flash and Toast hosted an annual All-Day Breakfast to coincide with our annual fundraising appeals and each time they raised over $100K for us in just 12 hours!

We are looking forward to having some fun and raising more funds with our MoreFM whānau later in the year!

It was great to be able to give back to the award winning MoreFM Northland crew for their ongoing support. Congrats to John, Flash and Toast for winning the Best Local Team Show at yesterday’s 2023 Radio Awards!



The Whangārei Masonic Lodge has kindly donated $4260.70 for two Tait radios now installed in our Northern Rescue Helicopter Rapid Response Vehicles (RRVs) situated at our Whangārei and Ardmore Bases.  

RRVs have been attached to aeromedical assets for over ten years. They have been used to attend critically unwell patients within regions when an air response is inappropriate, or other first responders are unavailable or some distance from the scene.Traditionally, they’ve been used to deliver advanced skillsets such as blood, ultrasound, rapid sequence intubation (RSI), and ventilation, which are all limited resources in most ambulances.

NRHL has employed its clinical staff in Whangārei since May 2022. At that stage, the base had no RRV, however, we believed that the addition of this resource would provide an invaluable asset to the Whangārei community that we serve.

We want to thank the Whangārei Masonic Lodge for its ongoing support over the years in funding much needed equipment to ensure the running of our service.

Whangārei Mayor Vince Cocurullo, left, pictured with Harry Gray of the Whangarei Masonic Lodge.



We would like to welcome Fujifilm as our new Platinum Sponsor!

Fujifilm have agreed to provide our sponsors or donors with an annual framed image of our helicopter to sit in their place of business or in their home for donations or sponsorships valued at $300 and upwards.



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