Saving Private Toon

Abacus Group_Training

Abacus Group Ltd has been a long-time supporter of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. In July this year, the Group’s director, Richard Toon was the subject of an offshore sea rescue, but all for a good cause.

Richard shares his experience of being a ‘patient’ for the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter during a training exercise and says he is full of admiration of the calm professionalism of the team that air-lifted him to safety.

Here is Richard’s account of what happened on Saturday 8 July, 2017:

“Last year, I attended a fundraiser for the Taranaki Community Rescue Helicopter Trust and was successful in an auction for a “patient experience”. Being a keen boatie, I elected to be rescued from the sea.

I was excited but a little apprehensive. However, from the moment I turned up to the hangar I was helped to relax into the experience with a warm welcome from crewman, Sarah Sharp and Trust administrator, Michelle Zehnder.

Sarah was calm and confident. She introduced me to crewman and TRHT manager Andy Cronin, who was passionate and knowledgeable; a cool and collected Mike Parker, TRHT’s local pilot; and Grant Smith, a highly experienced helicopter pilot and chief pilot from Auckland. With them were Mike Melody, Sean and Nathan Zieltjes, a trio of brave and competent young volunteer swimmers.

What a great bunch of people. They talked about their roles and within a short period of time made me feel like part of this dynamic team. After kitting me out in a wetsuit and life jacket, Mike drove me out to the Oakura Surf Club where I met three of the “clubbies” that were to “IRB” us out to the Cape Egmont Sea Rescue boat waiting offshore to stage the rescue from the deck of their boat.

It was cold, wet and the sea was “gnarly”. The ride out to the rescue boat set the scene, getting plenty of “air” over rollers. I’m not sure what my face looked like but on the inside, I was loving it.

What confident and calm young people these surf lifesavers are. I was quickly transferred to the rescue boat, which is a very impressive boat manned by seven volunteers from Coastal Taranaki. Once again ordinary people doing extraordinary things for our community.

I was in position to be rescued when all of a sudden the helicopter was there, hovering above us in the wind, the rain and the swells. After a few training pickups for the swimmers from the sea and the deck, it was my time to be rescued.

Mike clipped the hook to my harness, communicated with a couple of hand signals, and I was then under the chopper ready to be hauled into the side door. Once in the helicopter, I was unhooked, my seat belt was fastened, the door was closed and we were back off to the helipad at Taranaki Base Hospital.

What an opportunity it was to see a team of brave and professional people go about a highly dangerous job with confidence, skill and humility. It appeared to be another day at the office for this team, but the detail and preparation proved that every day at the office for them is one of calculation, preparation and safety at all costs.

I was fortunate to see first-hand the precision and skill it takes to keep our community Agusta 109 in the air and saving people’s lives.

The crew and volunteers of the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust are real heroes, as are the board members who help ensure our helicopter has the working funds to fly and save lives.

Taranaki, we have an amazing resource that is manned by amazing people, highly-skilled pilots and crewmen, skilled rescue swimmers, surf lifesavers and volunteers of the Cape Egmont Sea Rescue.

Abacus Group Ltd are incredibly proud to support this community service and will continue to do so for many years to come.