Blog Archives

Interview with Jayden Strickland – Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust

Those of you following my blog for sometime, will know of my sister Debra Avery’s car accident on 24th February 2012. Debra was severely injured and after some great work by local ambulance, fire crews and bystanders, was extricated from her vehicle and flown to hospital by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Service. Debra is currently on the long slow road to recovery. You can read more about her accident in my previous blog titled ‘Why do bad things happen to good people’.

Debra’s accident and subsequent rescue prompted me to work with the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust during my climb on Everest in 2012. I am very proud to be working with the TRHT. To date we have raised $3,900 for the trust. I am very thankful to those people who have donated from all over the world to-date. As I have mentioned previously regarding donations, please do not feel pressured to donate money at this point. I encourage readers to follow my progress on Everest, tell your friends about it and enjoy the entertainment from the comfort of your homes. I try my best while working in the confines of an extreme environment, to bring you along with me on my journey through regular blogs, video’s and voice dispatches. I do not know if I will make the summit of Everest this year. After my attempt last year the extreme cold, horrific wind and the threat of altitude sickness make me very scared. No man or woman can conquer Mt Everest. We can only be lucky enough to sneak up to her summit and down again safely, on those handful of days per year when she lets us. At the end of the climb, what ever happens, I hope you will have enjoyed following the journey, and if so may be inclined to make a donation.

Behind every highly professional organisation there are great people working. I have had the pleasure of working closely with Michelle Zehnder and Jayden Strickland from TRHT. I am very thankful for both of them for agreeing to work with me with so little time before my climb. Jayden is the Chief Crewman for the TRHT and attended Debra’s accident scene onboard the rescue helicopter. I thought it would be nice to hear the ‘inside story’ of what the TRHT is all about. Jayden kindly agreed to an interview which you can read below.

Hello Jayden. You are a member of the TRHT. Can you explain your role with the TRHT, and how you became involved?

I am the Chief Crewman for TRHT, I am responsible for the training and management of paid and volunteer aircrew/teams and the serviceability of the rescue equipment these people put there lives into i.e. rescue harnesses/stretchers etc. Our various teams consist of experienced ordinary citizens within the Marine, Alpine and Bush environments whom require continual training in the environments they may face. I became involved with TRHT in Jan 2011 after leaving the New Zealand Navy as a Petty Officer Helicopter Crewman and Instructor, which I served almost 11 years. I sought a change in my flying career from Military operations to rescue work and since leaving the forces I have never looked back.

What kind of training are crewman required to go through?

Helicopter Crewman are required to meet a high standard of Airmanship to perform Emergency Medical duties onboard a rescue helicopter. My previous training with the Royal New Zealand Air Force and Navy had me well placed for the role on a civilian rescue helicopter.

I portray to people, a Helicopter Crewman in the flying environment is the eyes through his or her mouth to the pilot, as in most cases the danger area for a helicopter is most likely behind or underneath the aircraft out of the pilots visual range, and this needs to be relayed to the pilot by a crewman before an incident happens.

Therefore Helicopter Crewman are to have a high standard of “situational awareness”, mathematics, distance judging, be a team player, leadership towards direction and commanding, map reading, radio communications operations, meteorological understanding, ability to multitask, calling as you see it and preempting judgement calls (in the case of winch rescues), maturity and common sense. These are all tested through a vigorous conversion to type instruction by a qualified instructor. Once all the ticks are in the boxes you are then allowed to spread your wings to fly as a member onboard a rescue helicopter.

Can you give us a run down on the services the TRHT performs?

Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust offers a versatile range of services to our community (and outer Regions). Taranaki, New Zealand can experience some harsh weather and environmental conditions coupled with great outdoor and sporting activities, we have sea, bush, alpine and main highways surrounding us (more local details here The need for a well equipped, multi role helicopter is essential to carry out our tasks.

Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust owns a Agusta Westland 109 Power helicopter capable of carrying out the below tasks:

Search and rescue platform, i.e. we will be tasked to search for missing or injured persons in land and sea environments. We are equipped with a 600lb (272kg) rescue hoist, beacon tracking equipment, multiple radios to communicate with other emergency services and ground search teams. We have experienced volunteers trained in the Maritime and Alpine conditions.

Rapid response, to and from accident and medical incidents. Taranaki has been known as “Tiger Country”, this means our patients are often found in remote areas inaccessible by road ambulances or so remote the patient could face a long journey back to hospital for treatment. The aircraft can reach the entire Taranaki region within 30 minutes!

Inter-Hospital transfers, patients who require urgent surgery in specialist hospitals are flown by the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter as we can deliver a “door to door” service. Enabling our patients to get their specialist care in the quickest possible time.

Police assistance, the Rescue Helicopter can quickly role into a Police deployment platform delivering members of the Armed Offenders Squad to safe points near the incident.

On average TRHT performs around 200-300 missions per year. Flying around 350 hours per year at a cost of $3000NZD per hour!

On Feb 24th 2012 you were a crew member on board who attended the rescue of my sister’s (Debra Avery) car accident. Can you give us a run through of the rescue?

I remember the day clearly, we were in the office at the time and I heard the call on the Ambulance radio (not a response call for helicopter to go). The call came through as a two car MVA (Motor Vehicle Accident) persons trapped and a mention of injuries. The location Toko (East of Stratford, Taranaki) and instantly knowing the location we knew it would be vital for the services of the Rescue Helicopter to attend. The aircraft is always on the heliport apron in a standby status, equipment ready, fuel topped up. So all is required is for aircrew and medical staff to board start up and get airborne.

In a short amount of time we knew Ambulance communications were assessing the appropriate resources to utilise and mobilize for the best care of the injured, our pagers were then activated to respond. The flight time to Debra’s location would be 12 minutes by air.

In this flight time the crew are navigating to the scene via real time road maps and gps waypoints. The aircraft utilises a combination of on board gps Garmin 500 and 296, and a Panasonic Tough book with Topographic mapping and a Bluetooth live gps feed. The crewman is in constant communication with Ambulance, Police and Fire communications to paint a picture of what is happening on the ground and statuses of the patients. On locating at the scene we are assessing a suitable landing spot for the helicopter to avoid traffic, livestock and power lines and other hazards. In this incident we were graced by the knowledge of Toko volunteer fire brigade on the best landing site already setup and marshaled. They had cut a pathway through the No8 wired fence leading towards Debra’s vehicle. Who at the time of our arrival was being extricated from the vehicle.

The scene a silver two door flat deck ute with damage to the front right hand side, resting on the right hand verge of the road. Another vehicle (Debra’s) a green unrecognisable Mazda Familia (identified by a number plate search) 4 door sedan perched precariously down a bank. Severe frontal damage sustained, secured by a strop to prevent further movement down the bank whilst emergency services work to release Debra. Cutting equipment was required to release Debra from her vehicle and enable St John staff to assess her full extent of injuries.

Debra was carried by the volunteer fire fighters to the rescue helicopters crew and paramedics position at a safe point in the middle of the road. From there St John paramedics and helicopter staff worked frantically to stabilise Debra, administer required pain relief and prepare for transportation to Taranaki Base Hospital.

On loading Debra into the aircraft there is a slight moment of relief from emergency workers at the scene, they had done their job well and now it is up to the St John paramedic and us the flight crew to delivery Debra to Taranaki Base Hospital for controlled emergency care.

On arrival at the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter’s heliport Debra was transferred to a waiting Ambulance to transport her into Emergency Department.

What were your initial thoughts when you saw Debra’s condition at the accident scene?

My initial thoughts when I saw Debra’s injuries were of the severe pain she must be in and how could anyone survive this. Our thoughts are with the patient and doing our best to get them to hospital as fast and safely as we can.

Where does the funding come from to operate the Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust?

Funding is crucial to Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust. The Rescue Trust relies heavily on community funding through sponsorships, fundraising events and telemarketing. Our operational costs exceed $1.5 million dollars per year. We source around 29% of our funding from the New Zealand Government and the remainder 71% is obtained through community appeals.

Any fund raising initiatives or donations are welcome from groups, individuals, corporates as every dollar raised provides Taranaki (and outer Communities) with a free air medical service.

How do you enjoy working for the TRHT?

To be truthful the job certainly has its “ups and downs” (no pun intended!). Taranaki Rescue Helicopter offers a vast range of jobs and the saying “every day is never the same” is well and true. Successful missions much like this one of Debra’s makes it all worth while.

What’s the most difficult rescues to perform?

Every rescue has its varying degree of difficulty. What maybe a piece of cake one day maybe influenced by changing weather conditions, obstructions, lighting conditions, hazards the next. It is perceived in the rescue industry winch recoveries to be the most difficult or dangerous as they tend to be conducted in the worst environments where patients or survivors require immediate evacuation.

How do you handle dealing with working in such a highly stressful environment where you are involved daily with extreme cases of human suffering?

For me whilst in a situation its remaining calm, taking steps methodically, putting in practice my training received and on job experience. Afterwards it pays to talk about your experience with your work colleagues who may have been in the same or similar situation. We have great support network between St John paramedics, Surf Life Saving and TRHT teams..

What does your family think about you working in a dangerous vocation such as this?

My partner Bex supports my career choice, I’m sure there is an element of worry as I rush out the door in the middle of the night to respond to a job. But our processes here at Taranaki Rescue Helicopter Trust are robust and safe. Safety of crews and patients are high priority.

Jayden, thanks for taking the time out for this interview and to you, Michelle and all of the staff at the TRHT, keep up the good work!

For more info on TRHT please visit:

Donations can be made on-line by following the link on the left hand side of my blog or visit the ‘Community Tab’.

Photo below is of Jayden Strickland, beside the Rescue Helicopter.

%d bloggers like this: