Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust

The Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter[1] is a New Zealand accident and emergency rescue and transport service operated by the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust (ARHT). The trust operates two AW169 and one BK117 helicopters on behalf of the helicopter owners—the greater Auckland community. There are four "Westpac Rescue Helicopter" services in New Zealand, but they are all separate entities and only linked by the same major sponsor.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter during a demonstration in 2009 at the Whenuapai Air Show.

The aircraft and crew are trained and equipped to operate day and night, their missions range from emergency/accident casualty transport, to medical transfers (medevacs), rescue searches and airlifts.[2] The service flew 1065 missions in 2017.[3] The trust added specialist emergency medicine critical care doctors to the crew line-up in September 2011 when it commenced a two-year HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) pilot study in partnership with Auckland District Health Board (ADHB). The project received additional funding to continue for a further three years in mid 2013.


The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Service was started by the Auckland Surf Life Saving Association leasing a Hiller 12E helicopter from Alexander Helicopters Ltd for six summer weekends of 1970/1971,[4] becoming the world's first civilian rescue helicopter service.[citation needed] The helicopter flown by George Sobiecke was based on the hill behind the Piha Surf Life Saving Club. From 1971 on, the rescue helicopter service operated during the surf life saving club patrolling season from Labour Weekend to Easter. A Rescue Helicopter Squad of 32 specially trained lifeguards from the various clubs affiliated to the Auckland Surf Life Saving Association was formed. Pilot George Sobieke departed in 1972 to be replaced by Sam Anderson. Surf reports were radioed from the helicopter for live broadcast over Radio Hauraki.

In January 1973 the Hiller 12E was replaced by a jet engine powered Hiller FH1100. Apart from weekends this helicopter was also used during the summer school holidays and had one of the helicopter squad members working as a paid helicopter lifeguard for this period. Money raised from surf reports provided by the duty helicopter lifeguards was used to purchase and redecorate a batch opposite the toilet block on the middle beach at Piha. This became the summer base for the rescue helicopter crew with a landing pad to the north of the Piha Middle Beach toilet block.

In 1977 Keith McKenzie replaced Sam as the pilot. On 8 January 1977 the then prime minister Robert Muldoon, who was at Piha for the re-opening of the Piha Surf Life Saving club house after the Project 40 rebuild, joined the helicopter lifeguards to jump into the surf and be lifted out of the water and be transported back to the beach slung under the helicopter using the rescue strop connected into the cargo hook.

On 7 July 2020 Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust Acting CEO Michelle Boag resigned from her position after admitting to leaking confidential patient details of COVID-19 patients to National Party MP Hamish Walker.[5]


The Auckland helicopter at its base in Mechanics Bay.

The trust operates one BK117 (850D2 variant) helicopter. These can attain cruising (long-distance) speeds of around 200 km/h (120 mph), and have a range of about 500 km (300 nautical miles), carrying 605 litres internally and a further 300 litres with auxiliary fuel tanks.[6] Their registrations is ZK-HKZ, callsigns Westpac Rescue 3

A leased Auckland service model was replaced in 2007 by a second-hand model of the same make (with a low number of flight hours and was fully rebuilt from the ground up), and equipped with extended night-flying gear, weather radar and better internal configuration. The new helicopter cost $3.3 million NZD, compared with a yearly lease of NZ$1 million for the previous model.[7] A second machine was purchased in 2010, providing better coverage to the more than 1.5 million population of the serviced region.

The trust planned to replace its helicopters with AgustaWestland AW169s[8] in 2018 following a public fundraising campaign.


The helicopters have numerous financial supporters in the community and corporate sectors as they are only partially Government funded. The main naming rights sponsor is the Australasian bank Westpac. The sponsorship began in 1981 when Westpac sponsored the Wellington helicopter service.[6]

See also


  1. Helicopter Rescue - 30 Years of Community Service, Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust, 30 November 2000, ISBN 0-473-07320-X
  2. Missions Archived February 13, 2007, at the Wayback Machine (from the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust website. Retrieved 2008-01-10.)
  3. "Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust 2017 Annual Report" (pdf). Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust. Retrieved 5 July 2018.
  4. The Auckland Rescue Helicopter Service (1970 - 1995) Official History. Auckland New Zealand: GCL Publishing Limited. 1995.
  5. "National MP Hamish Walker admits leaking Covid-19 patient details". Radio New Zealand. Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  6. Westpac Rescue Helicopters (from the Westpac New Zealand website)
  7. Cleave, Louisa (20 January 2007). "New rescue chopper big leap in safety". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  8. "Type Acceptance Report: Leonardo Helicopters AW169" (PDF). Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand. 21 March 2018. Archived from the original (pdf) on 5 July 2018. Retrieved 5 July 2018.