Although new Taranaki Rescue Helicopter pilot, Craig Chaplin, has been in isolation most of his time in New Plymouth, it hasn’t stopped the people of the region making an immediate impression on him and his girlfriend Frankie.
“We arrived the week leading up to the lockdown, but everyone we’ve met so far has been amazing, generous, friendly and warm,” Craig explains. “In fact, the Trust has really taken us in and looked after us, making sure we’re happy and fitting in. The focus on employee wellbeing has been really impressive.”
It was a chance opportunity that brought him to the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. “My brother has lived in New Zealand for 15 years so I have visited a few times but Frankie had never been before. Just before we were due to travel, I was retrenched from my role in Durban so we agreed that if she liked it, we would try and stay on,” recalled Craig. After some investigation into the aviation industry in New Zealand, it became clear that his skills as a helicopter pilot would be of interest to the search and rescue cause. “The fact that I’d flown the Agusta 109 in South Africa seemed to put me in a fairly unique position here, so I travelled down to New Plymouth to see if we liked it.”
His most recent role was with the Red Cross Air Mercy Service, run by South Africa’s Department of Health, transferring patients from rural clinics and hospitals into major centres for medical care. Prior to that Craig was in Durban and Nigeria for roles in the offshore industry, after his first flying role was in tourism based in Cape Town. That sense of helping people is what drives Craig, and what he is looking forward to most with his new role.
“From when I started learning to fly, I always wanted to use my profession to help people. The scope of the missions here in Taranaki are so varied, from ocean to mountain and everything in between. I’m sure it will be an incredibly challenging and exciting time.”
Having grown up in Kloof, just inland of Durban, Craig immediately saw the similarities with Taranaki making it an easy decision to make the switch.
“Since I was about 10 or 11-years-old, I was on the beach trying to surf, even when I went away to boarding school and came back, I would try and get back into the warm ocean. The surf looks amazing in Taranaki but I’m still waiting for my board which is on its way in a shipping container, but I will need a nice warm wetsuit out there.”
Like many new to the region, Craig and Frankie have been adjusting to the different climate. Initially arriving in New Zealand in October, their first impression was that of a beautiful summer. “The weather was amazing in those first few weeks staying with my brother in Hawkes Bay, but I think we’re now getting a taste of what winter might be like.”
Craig isn’t averse to the cold, having been previously based in Colorado at a ski resort. His former life saw him qualify as dental technician, a job which took him to Europe, the UK and eventually the USA, before the flying-bug bit him.
He admits he hasn’t had the chance to sample all of New Plymouth’s sights, sounds and tastes, “although we did receive a couple of restaurant recommendations from Fergus, fellow pilot. Craig is also looking forward to exploring more of the region through hiking and mountain biking but accepts that will come in good time.