The Lakes District Air Rescue Trust (LDART)which has played a pivotal role in rescue and emergencies in the area for the past 30 years is charged with raising over $500,000 a year to ensure the ongoing viability of the crucial service and its goal of saving lives.
Long-time chairman Jules Tapper, who along with a committed group of Queenstown people has been responsible for a rescue service that has saved countless lives over the years, says they want to highlight the need for widespread community support.
“We set up LDART in 1991 as a low-cost service operating on an ‘as available’ basis, using existing local helicopter operators. In those days there was no way choppers could fly in the middle of the night as there was no night vision equipment until recently and often there wasn’t a helicopter available so there was no service. Despite this, over the years we have assisted more than 12,000 people in the wider area.”
In October 2018 there was a new direction when the Government announced it would only fund dedicated services and LDART agreed to support the unfunded section of the local contract to the tune of $500-600,00 a year. While this is challenging Jules says other South Island trusts with greater surrounding populations are required to support their services to a much larger degree.
LDART is currently campaigning to raise awareness that the Queenstown and Te Anau based service, operated by Heli Otago on behalf of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services Ltd, is by no means free and must have community financial support to help operate the lifesaving venture.
“While the Government covers the helicopter operations, we are responsible for contributions towards training paramedics, recurrency training for crew and pilots and providing essential rescue and medical emergency equipment,” says Jules. “Recurrency training is particularly significant because there are tight restrictions around how often personnel can fly or whether a crewman can operate a winch for example, without recent experience or recurrency training.”
Several months ago LDART invested just over $115,000 in vital new equipment for the Queenstown based regional rescue helicopter which standardises it with others operating in the South Island.
“These were major items. We have invested in the Rolls Royce of equipment which will undoubtedly save even more lives. They include an automated CPR machine, patient monitor and defibrillator and a ventilator. This equipment is absolutely key to providing a top-line service.”
LDART’s role today is very much focused on fundraising and while there is good support from community trusts and individual companies Jules says the message needs to get out to the wider community that “if you have a dedicated service, which can react within minutes, you have to contribute to its existence. You never know when you might need us.”
“We have family subscriptions of $50 a year and corporates $500 year and of course we are very keen to get private donations. We can’t impress how important this service is. On just one day in December last year we had three heart attack victims and because of the professional and skilled staff who run the helicopter service they all survived. But this sort of thing can only happen if we have the money in the bank.”