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Tragic beginnings

It was a difficult time when NZFDS was first introduced to the Canterbury West Coast community. Established in 1995, the first mission was to transfer medical teams from Christchurch to Greymouth to assist staff at Grey Base Hospital following the Cave Creek Disaster.

This tragic event is entrenched in the hearts and minds of our nation. When a viewing platform failed in a remote part of the West Coast, it cost thirteen outdoor recreation students and a DOC worker their lives.  It was a dark day for the local community and the whole of New Zealand. These young lives lost were a part of families from Whangarei in the north to Greymouth in the south.   

Grey Base Hospital in Greymouth is the only hospital offering specialist services for the whole of the West Coast and courageously attended to the immediate needs of survivors. Patients were later flown by NZFDS, a service that could administer critical ongoing care on an otherwise harrowing journey to Christchurch for further treatment from bed to bed.

The tragedy cemented the need for a flying doctor service, a service that is able to administer ongoing time-critical care, in the largest and most remote region of New Zealand.


Early days

“Although we were operating the Rescue Helicopter in the South Island at the time, it was evident that there were times when you needed more than a rescue team and a helicopter. Those who were very sick and in hospital needed specialist care. They had to be transferred to a hospital that could provide advanced medical treatment. Sometimes the distances were vast and at other times the need for a pressurised aeroplane that can fly over 10,000 ft in order to fly over the Southern Alps. These pressurised aircraft keep the patient at sea level cabin pressure which is critical for very sick patients. Most of all they need to have specialised intensive care right through the journey from one hospital bed to another until specialised treatment is available at the destination.” Says John Currie who had the passion and the foresight to start this service for our communities.

When the service started it was crewed by St John paramedics then soon after that Garden City Helicopters employed a specialist doctor as well as nurses so the patients were always receiving the same level of care throughout the transport.  The service started as a small operation and has now grown to three Turbine aircraft and two bases flying over 1400 hours annually and transporting more than 1000 patients.


In 2001 the Flying Doctor Service partnered with the CDHB and the NMDHB to provide specialised care throughout New Zealand with fully equipped aircraft and Intensive Care Doctors and Nurses to provide intensive care treatment while the patient is being transferred. 

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