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Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust celebrates 50 years of saving Kiwis' lives

A symbol of safety in Auckland’s airspace and beyond, the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust yesterday celebrated 50 years of serving our skies.

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Each year, thousands of Kiwis use the service. Source: Seven Sharp

Every year, the helicopters take off to rescue individual lives and those which shaped the nation, including last year’s Whakaari/White Island eruption.

In 1970, the service was run by a team of volunteer lifeguards. Now it boasts 80 staff members, including full-time flight crews. What hasn’t changed, however, is their role in saving the lives of thousands of Kiwis.

Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust helicopter manager Greg Brownson, who has been with the service for 30 years, told Seven Sharp it's changed "hugely" since 1970, with the crews seeing "amazing upgrades" in their helicopters.

"It's all for patient care," Mr Brownson said. "Our whole being is to look after patients."

He said while he's done "so many [rescues] over the years", one of the most difficult rescue missions he's encountered has involved pitching people on yachts offshore and 120 miles off North Cape.

"That's when the skill level really comes in," Mr Brownson said.

"I've done some really good jobs and I've unfortunately had some really horrible incidents that I've been to."

He said people are always grateful when help arrives, adding that the crews often receive "a lot of thanks, chocolate cakes come down to the base years later".

However, Mr Brownson stressed that the service is "just one cog in that huge emergency service role".

"We all work together to get that patient from where they are to hospital as fast as possible with the best medical care," he said. "Our paramedics and our doctors on board the helicopter are the best."

While they were unable to take a staff picture to celebrate the milestone, a staff member instead helped mark the occasion with a cartoon, Mr Brownson said.

"We're going to get together with all our past crew and medics and doctors and we're going to celebrate in a special way, which is on the plan now."