Mum's rescue flight inspires West Coast teen to become rescue helicopter pilot

At 15, Willie McBride is at the beginning of what he hopes is a long journey in the skies.

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At just 15, Willie McBride has his eyes firmly set on the skies. Source: Seven Sharp

“It's just something that interests me, getting up in the sky,” the trainee pilot told TVNZ1’s Seven Sharp.

“It’s good fun flying helicopters.”

When his mum Jo became ill, Willie joined her in a rescue helicopter. Living on the West Coast in Franz Josef, it’s at least three hours by ambulance to the hospital. 

“That’s when he decided. He said, right, I’m going to go out and fundraise to pay for mum’s trip,” Jo said.

Willie has since fundraised more than $16,000 for the rescue helicopter service.

He also set out to get 150 hours of flying time - the minimum for a commercial pilot’s license. Rescue helicopter pilots require a minimum of 2000.

It’s taken a lot of hard work. The first time he flew a helicopter, Willie said he was nervous.

“The more you grip the controls, the worse it is,” he said.

But Jo reckons he’ll work with the rescue helicopter service one day.

Meanwhile, CEO of Canterbury/West Coast Air Rescue Christine Prince would love to see him join the fundraising team too. 

With the Covid-19 pandemic, reaching the service’s fundraising target of $6 million a year has been extra challenging.

“When we've got people like Willie out there saying we want to help, we're just overjoyed,” she said.