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Life-saving equipment donated

[From left to right] Karl Taucher, Jason Diedrichs [at back], Ryan Cawood, and John Bunny, with the newly-donated gear. PHOTO/ARTHUR HAWKES

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Wairarapa Rescue Trust has donated a range of safety equipment to be used by Amalgamated Helicopters during their search and rescue operations, thanks to a $10,000 donation from Trust House.

Trustees from both WRT and Trust House converged at the hangar on Chester Rd, Carterton, with helicopter pilot Ryan Cawood and Amalgamated Helicopters owner Jason Diedrichs demonstrating the new gear to the assembled company.

Cawood, who has attended numerous life-saving missions in the region, described the high-tech gear, which included three Switlik Helivest life vests and a life raft.

The vests were each equipped with a brand-new Personal Locator Beacon, waterproof walkie-talkies, and stashes of personal emergency equipment. The crew would wear these vests at all times when on missions.

Also donated was a six-man manual life raft with an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, which was used to transmit powerful radio frequencies in marine environments.

This could be transferred to people stuck out at sea, or used by the crew in the event of an emergency on water, along with the life vests.

In 2017, WRT also donated a $14,000 thermal imaging camera, with $7000 secured from business donations, and a further $7000 from Trust House.

John Bunny, chairman of WRT, said this was “another step in our process of making sure that the rescue helicopter is fully equipped”.

Bunny acknowledged the support of Andrew Croskery, a trustee of WRT, who put the application into the Trust House foundation and secured the fund – also the support of Karl Taucher of the Masterton Community Trust [a shareholder of Trust House].

Secretary-treasurer of WRT Sam Milligan, a legend of search and rescue in the region, was also singled out for overseeing the purchasing and delivery of the equipment.

Diedrichs, who owns Amalgamated Helicopters with wife Sally, thanked WRT and Trust House for their contribution, and said that the new gear would save lives and give the crew “peace of mind”.

“We’re at the sharp end … and sometimes when the Westpac or the [Palmerston North rescue]helicopters can’t get to Wairarapa we are able to hopefully make the difference and help save people.

“It’s just going to be peace of mind for us when we’re out searching in the open seas, sometimes not in the best weather. This increases our chances of survivability incredibly.”

While Amalgamated Helicopters primarily operated as a commercial helicopter company, due to their close proximity to the Wairarapa coast, and being nestled just under the Tararuas, they can often respond to rescue missions very quickly.

Several major marine search and rescue incidents have happened over the past few years in Wairarapa.

In 2015, a woman was checking a crayfish pot, 500 metres from Ocean Beach in South Wairarapa. She was then blown 2.5 kilometres out to sea by gusts of up to 128kmh, before a helicopter was called out and she was spotted.

In 2019, fisherman Rex Belandres drifted over 16km off the Wairarapa coast. His small kayak capsized more than 20 times in the swells that he said were “bigger than the house”.

Amalgamated Helicopters was mobilised for this search, and the team scrambled to get the chopper in the sky as soon as possible.

Miraculously, Belandres was found safe and well, defying the grim but probable predictions of another life lost to the merciless ocean.

Cawood summarised the gravitas of the donation, saying it made the helicopter operations far safer in marine environments.

“We’re here for the Wairarapa community, and this reduces the risks to us.”

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