As one of the newest pilots on the roster at Northland Emergency Services Trust’s (NEST) hangar in Western Hills Drive, Rhys McLachlan has taken a long career in flying and created something even more satisfying than his passion for being in the air.
Before starting with the trust in May of this year, Rhys had spent a number of years as a FIFO (Fly-In Fly-Out) pilot with Oil and Gas Australia. The work was great and busy, but he admits his new role definitely ticks all the boxes.
“We moved to Whangarei for this role. This is a dream role for a helicopter pilot – you work with great machines, and a really good team, to make a difference to people’s lives. Even if it is just a transfer between hospitals, it is still making that person’s life better for it,” he says.
“When you help another human, you are achieving in life, and we get to do that every day.”
But there are times that the job takes its toll – and he is still getting used to that.
“I think the thing that shocked me the most was when the beeper goes off at all times of the night or day. There is no telling when the next call will come in. When you are sound asleep at 2am and a call comes in, you have to be up, driving to the hangar and getting ready to fly, while you are still trying to wake up. Add to that, cold and wet winters and so on – it can be an unpleasant environment, but then you are getting ready to get into the air and you know it’s an emergency, you are helping someone and all that stuff doesn’t seem important anymore.”
“Flying people with injuries in or out was very unusual in my last role, whereas every day it is something different here. It makes it an interesting role.”
“I can’t name one highlight so far – there have been so many.”
The scenery gives both challenges and joy, he says.
“Northland has the most amazing landscapes. There aren’t many places in the world where, when you are up in the sky, you can see both coastlines at once with the rugged hills in between – it is stunning. And from there, it is just 30 minutes to Auckland. It’s amazing.”
With the NEST team currently undertaking training in the two new Sikorsky Helicopters soon to join the fleet, Rhys says he is enjoying trying out the new machines and their capabilities.
His respect of the helicopters is clear.
“Helicopters are amazing machines – you can land anywhere in them, you can land in the weirdest of places, you can go anywhere in them – you can do it all in a helicopter.”