Sunday, 09 August 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Hands off our helicopter!

A call to action has been issued to communities the length and breadth of the Coromandel to once more rally against the withdrawal of the lifesaving rescue helicopter from its base on the Peninsula.

News that the National Ambulance Sector Office (NASO), which coordinates air ambulance services across the country, ordered that no helicopter could be located at the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga this summer, for the first time in a decade, has been met with dismay and outrage.

The decision has rendered the million dollar state-of-the-art facility funded by the people of the Peninsula redundant and defied a commitment NASO made in late 2018 that there would be no reduction in air ambulance services to the region. Now, the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust (CRHT) is vowing to fight back and a petition has been launched demanding the reinstatement of the arrangement where a helicopter was based in Whitianga for at least the summer months and during holiday weekends.

“This is the minimum that the people of the Coromandel should accept. I can assure our residents and visitors that the gloves are off. So much work, time and money has been invested by literally thousands of people to establish and maintain this base so we could have this critical lifesaving service here in our community. The trust will be doing everything possible to fight this decision,” said CRHT chairman, Brian Bowering.

A poster campaign, funded by The Mercury Bay Informer and jointly promoted by The Informer and Coromandel’s More FM, will get underway this week urging people to sign the petition which MP for Coromandel, Scott Simpson will take to the government. Mr Simpson became the first person to sign the petition last Sunday (29 December) and undertook to personally deliver posters to businesses and community groups around the Peninsula.

“It defies belief that this is the second time in little more than eighteen months that we are having to rally for this vitally important service. We’ve been let down and we’ve been betrayed, but I know how passionate the people of Coromandel are about this issue and we will rise up again against this despicable and unjust decision,” he said.

Urging the public to support the effort he said, “I hope people will join me in sending a message to the Jacinda Ardern-led government that we’d rather have a helicopter than a hug.”

The loss of the helicopter from Whitianga made national headlines in recent days featuring in news reports on both TVNZ and Three where Mr Bowering and Mr Simpson voiced the frustration of the Coromandel public.

“The rescue helicopter base in Whitianga belongs to the people of the Coromandel, we made it happen. It’s there waiting, ready to go, but we have other people making decisions about its future with no consultation and no adequate explanation for those decisions,” Mr Bowering told The Informer.

NASO is a joint office of the Ministry of Health and ACC and was established in 2008 to plan and fund road and air ambulance services across New Zealand. A new tender process in 2018 resulted in a major restructuring of how rescue helicopter services across the country operate. When the CRHT was established in 2012, approximately three years after a rescue helicopter was first based in Whitianga for the busy summer season, it was in partnership with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, who conducted the vast majority of rescue missions to the Peninsula.

According to the Ministry of Health, the Coromandel no longer comes under the coverage area of any one air ambulance service provider. While Hamilton-based Central Air Ambulance Rescue Limited is now described as the region’s “primary provider,” helicopters could come from any one of three locations - Hamilton, Tauranga or Auckland - depending on availability. A Ministry of Health spokesperson, despite having been specifically asked by The Informer to do so, failed to provide any information regarding the future of the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga.

Businesses, community groups and individuals interested to have hard copies of the petition available for members of the public to sign or to assist with the collection of signatures, must please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Copies are already available at the Informer’s office in Whitianga and the More FM studio in Thames. The petition will also in the next few weeks be available to sign online through the New Zealand Parliament website. The Informer and More FM will publicise the link once available.

The petition will remain live until the end of April 2020.

Pictured: MP for Coromandel, Scott Simpson (right), became the first person last Sunday to sign a petition calling on the government to reinstate the arrangement where a helicopter was based at the rescue helicopter base in Whitianga for at least the summer months and during holiday weekends. Brian Bowering, chairman of the Coromandel Rescue Helicopter Trust, is looking on.

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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.