Helipad to be built

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A tourist photographs Mitre Peak, Milford Sound. Photo: Southland Express files

AN EMERGENCY evacuation helipad will soon be added to the visitor terminal building at Milford Sound.

Environment Southland (ES) approved the $21,000 project last month.

ES strategy and corporate planning manager Ken Swinney said tourist numbers at Milford Sound were increasing rapidly and emergency helicopters currently had to land in the main car parking area.

This meant visitor terminal staff needed to clear the car park of vehicles and people to make a landing space for helicopters.

Southern Lakes Helicopters operations manager Lloyd Matheson said the five helicopter pilots he managed had medical training and had carried out medical evacuations from Milford Sound for more than 20 years.

The Otago Regional Rescue Helicopter, based in Dunedin, dealt with patients requiring intensive care, but otherwise Mr Matheson’s pilots might be called to Milford Sound two or three times a month, he said.

“Quite a few extractions come off cruise ships with day to day medical problems. This will be a big improvement on what we’ve had for health and safety reasons, I think.”

Cruise New Zealand executive officer Kevin O’Sullivan said several hundred thousand cruise ship passengers visited the sounds every year, so having the helipad was “a great precautionary measure for anyone who might require medical evacuation”.

Mr Swinney said Milford Sound Tourism Ltd had been granted funding of $17,000 to build the helipad. The remaining $4000 would come from ES’s existing maritime budget.

The maritime budget was funded from the Marine Fee Reserve.

ES’s marine fee, established in the 2001/2002 cruise season, is effectively a port fee which cruise ships visiting the sounds must pay to the regional council.

The fee is calculated based on the gross tonnage of each ship. The Marine Fee Reserve balance at the end of June 2018 was expected to be $2.83 million, Mr Swinney said.

All of ES’s expenditure on coastal management was paid for from the marine fee, so no ratepayer contribution was currently required, he said.

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