Mission possible: Uplifting the spirit of others

Pilots are masters of their own destiny in the sky, and this freethinking personality often transcends into other facets of their lives. Pilot Peter Davies, of The Northland Emergency Services Trust, is no exception, crafting a path that combines his love of helping people with flying.

When it comes to flying helicopters there's not much the Northland Rescue Helicopter pilot hasn't done. Peter’s career started after he lost his drive to work in nuclear medicine, finding it tough that he often couldn’t help people with their health issues.

“At that time we could find out what was wrong with people, but there was little we could do to help. This was hard to swallow.”

Flying was always something he was interested in growing up, but could never justify it. He bit the bullet, borrowed some money, and put himself through a fixed wing and helicopter course in Nelson, New Zealand.

His first job was in the agricultural sector, which introduced him to a wide variety of skills and terrain. This too is where Peter got his first taste for search and rescue emergencies.

"This was long before there were dedicated emergency medical service operations. Back then, agricultural pilots were jack of all trades. Search and rescue and emergency flying really cemented my desire to help people.”

 A career spanning over 37 years, Peter has seen it all. From working on oil rigs in and around Angola, Morocco, Thailand, Mozambique, Azerbaijan and Romania to heli-skiing in New Zealand’s Mount Cook. Peter also spent some time in Zimbabwe in game parks — but after decades of travel, home was calling.

Peter returned to New Zealand and was offered a position with NEST, where he could combine his advanced skills in a helicopter, with his intrinsic drive to help others. Peter counts himself as one of the lucky ones, being able to uplift the people in Northland and save lives.

“Air rescue is the perfect marriage of all my flying skills, and having the ability to feel as though we’re doing something useful for people is invaluable.”

The Northland Emergency Services Trust (NEST) was established in 1998 to provide helicopter air ambulance for the people of Northland. In the past 29 years, NEST have carried over 19,000 people to safety — from locals, to visitors who’ve found themselves in predicaments. 

Northland’s tumultuous weather, unsealed roads and widespread housing can often make it difficult to access emergencies quickly by road. NEST provide a critical service providing care to remote regions and helping people receive medical treatment more quickly.

Peter’s role has allowed him to explore some of the most secluded and beautiful places throughout the North Island — areas that they may not otherwise get to.

“We shut down while the paramedics attend to the patients, so we get to visit unique places and meet some of the amazing people who live in these local communities.”

Air rescue has given Peter access to some of the more advanced tools in the industry such as Night Vision Goggles and Instrument Flying — tools that have transformed NEST’s ability to do their job more effectively and safely.

“Night vision goggles have revolutionised night flying. We used to have to navigate with the naked eye, even when it was completely dark. NVG’s have been a tremendous boost to the industry.”

Although hugely rewarding, Peter admits that being a rescue pilot can take a toll on your personal life. Piloting in the air rescue sector is not your regular 9-5 job, and pilots are required to drop everything and fly whatever the day or time. Peter stresses that you’ve got to be committed, but believes that from a pilots point of view, “if you’re flying, you’re happy!”

“We never take for granted the beauty of the areas we fly in. You get a good day or a starry moonlit night, and it’s truly is a privilege.”

Although flying has taken Peter all over the globe, for him, there is still no place like home.

“The light and the clouds, and the sky… New Zealand is really a magical place and I think most pilots working here would agree that it really is the best place to be.”

Peter and his team provide a critical service to some of New Zealand’s most remote areas with the mission awhi atuatu mai, to uplift the spirits of others — and that is truly what makes them tick.

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