A New Zealand based rescue helicopter pilot has established an exclusive club for those who have been rescued by helicopter which will help raise money for rescue chopper services around the country.
Sue Dinkelacker, a Northland Rescue Helicopter pilot and award-winning sculptor, says the Haast Club is a way for those who have been helped by a rescue helicopter service to give back financially and acknowledge the life-changing experience they went through.
Dinkelacker has worked in Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) in New Zealand for more than seven years and is currently a Captain flying Northland Rescue Chopper’s Sikorsky S76C++ helicopters out of Whangarei.
“In New Zealand, we are incredibly fortunate to have so many rescue helicopters, which can rescue people in even the most remote regions. The Haast Club is a tribute to the charitable trusts built up by individual communities over decades that help keep these helicopters in the air.
“I still find it remarkable that in New Zealand a patient or person who is rescued is flown without question and without charge. This is not the case in the rest of the world where often evidence of insurance or a credit card is required prior to transport.”
Since being established in 1988, the Northland Rescue Helicopter has carried more than 21,000 people to safety.
To join the Haast Club a person, or friends and family of a person who has been rescued, purchase a collectible artwork sculpted by Dinkelacker with at least half the purchase price received by the NZ rescue helicopter trust of their choice.
Haast Club members can choose from a bronze lapel pin, a silver pendant and a bronze or silver paperweight/ ornament, with prices ranging from $128 to $2,300. Membership is open worldwide to anyone who has been rescued by helicopter.
Inspired by the eagle that snatched Gandalf to safety in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings stories, the Haast Club artworks depict the largest eagle ever to have existed in the world, the extinct New Zealand Haast eagle.
Dinkelacker first began sculpting out of wood using hand chisels to pass time while on standby for rescue missions. Something that started out as merely a hobby quickly turned into a passion and a lucrative second job. Now, her sculptures sell for nearly NZD$20,000.
She says her two loves, sculpting and flying, came together serendipitously to create the Haast Club.
“As a rescue pilot myself, I see every day how essential our service is. I know how expensive it is to purchase these helicopters, maintain them, and provide the skilled pilots and paramedics to pilot them – not to mention the cost of ongoing training for everyone involved.
“I also see the impact on the people and their families who we help. Sometimes when I’m in uniform strangers will come up to me to pass on their appreciation from a flight that took place years ago. What we do has far reaching effects,” she says.
Vanessa Furze, General Manager at Northland Rescue Helicopter, says that as a charity it relies on community support and fundraising to continue providing a dedicated emergency rescue helicopter service for the people of Northland.
“We love the fact that one of our own has come up with such a special and creative way to raise money for the rescue helicopter services saving lives around the country.
“Not only will the Haast Club be great for fundraising, it will also be really valuable for those who have been rescued by helicopter to be able to connect with others, share their stories and form a sense of community,” she says.
Last year, the team at Northland Rescue Chopper attended 953 call outs in total, just shy of the 2018 tally of 999 which was its busiest 12 months on record since the service began 30 years ago. They also added two new Sikorsky S-76 C++ choppers to their fleet in one of Northland’s largest ever aviation projects.
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