At two minutes past midnight on November 14, 2016, a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook New Zealand’s South Island. Ruptures occurred on multiple fault lines in a complex sequence that lasted for about two minutes, causing massive landslides and destroying roads and rail links.
Crews from Christchurch Helicopters were among the first to arrive in Kaikoura, a seaside tourist community that was completely cut off from the rest of the country. Thousands of residents and tourists were stranded in an area with damaged infrastructure and no way of replenishing supplies. Within six hours, Christchurch Helicopters was transporting urban search and rescue personnel to Kaikoura and starting to rescue more than 130 stranded Chinese tourists.
Once the damage was assessed, New Zealand Civil Defense recognized that a coordinated aerial program was necessary to deliver vital supplies, continue evacuations, and support the recovery project. In addition to working on the project, Christchurch Helicopters worked with Civil Defense to coordinate the work of several helicopter companies. Among the work completed was transportation of roughly 1,300 workers, delivery of vital cancer medications, and flying a plumber to an isolated farmhouse where a young mother was stranded with her baby and no water or sewage.
The services provided by Christchurch Helicopters and the consortium of other operators was the largest air brigade in New Zealand history. While it tested the company to its limits, the team at Christchurch Helicopters stepped up to the challenge and maximized resource use to provide the greatest level of support. Coincidentally, just a few months after the earthquake, Christchurch Helicopter crews also saved lives and property in the Port Hills fires in Christchurch.