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‘We save time, and that saves lives’

Chief executive Mark Johnston and marketing and fundraising manager Sebastian Grodd. PHOTO/EMMA BROWN

Saving lives doesn’t come cheap as people work behind the scenes to keep Life Flight crews flying. Times-Age reporter EMMA BROWN spent a day in the heat of the action learning about Life Flight and what it does for Wairarapa.

It all started with one man’s idea and now Life Flight services are out saving lives 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

On April 10, 1968 when the interisland ferry Wahine went down, Wellington man Peter Button was one of the many on the beach watching people struggle to get to shore.

He turned to his companion and said, “there has to be a better way”.

Button aimed to establish a dedicated rescue helicopter service for the Wellington region and in 1975 with the financial backing from businessman Mark Dunajtschik, he was able to purchase the first helicopter and then set about learning to fly.

Marketing and fundraising manager Sebastian Grodd said there were no other civilian operations like it at the time.

It was so new that legislation had to change for civilians to go out and rescue people.

They had to design the equipment, fit and rebuild it, and to make it work for an aviation setting.

“Some of it was totally a world first,” Grodd said.

Now, Life Flight has two air ambulance planes and a helicopter dedicated to 24/7 rescues and transfers.

The service provided doesn’t come cheap, 50-55 per cent of the funding comes from the government and $6 million was needed to be fundraised to keep the crews flying this year.

Grodd said Wairarapa and other regions were stunning, but also treacherous with rugged coast lines.

He said Life Flight was great for rural parts of Wairarapa that were hard to get to.

Chief executive Mark Johnston said about 20-30 per cent of donations came from Wairarapa and described the community connection as invaluable, “it’s part of the fabric of New Zealand”.

“There are thousands of generous Wairarapa supporters who make our emergency flights possible – we are incredibly grateful,” Grodd said.

“It’s a fantastic moment when donations arrive here at the base. We sit together to open the envelopes and read out the messages of support.”

“Our wonderful Red Angel supporters donate automatically each month and are totally essential to keeping us flying 24/7.”

“Our job is to make sure they can do more of it,” Johnston said.

While Life Flight is not for profit, they are also “not for loss”.

Johnston said it was important to get the crews to where they were needed, when they were needed.

“We save time, and that saves lives – as simple as that.”

“We can support because of support.”

Johnston said the culture at Life Flight and teamwork was critical.

Many hours went into training to keep the team ready, from classroom sessions, underwater escape training, and off-site training.

He said it was great seeing the team working together, knowing the people they helped got the best care possible.

For anyone looking to visit and see the work Life Flight completes each year, they are holding an open day at the base in wellington on March 1, 2020.

Anyone wanting more information or wanting to donate can visit lifeflight.org.nz

This is the last part in a three-part Life Flight mini-series.

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