• Search and Rescue: Southern Lakes Helicopters supporting emergency responses

Search and Rescue: Southern Lakes Helicopters supporting emergency responses

January 11, 2024

Fiordland is one of the most remote places on the planet. At over 12,000 square kilometres it is the largest national park in New Zealand and the Te Anau township is known as the gateway to the park. The landscape in Fiordland consists of snow-capped mountains, dense untouched rainforests and steep glacier-carved fiords, including two of the most famous landscapes in New Zealand: Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, which both bring in thousands of visitors annually.

Being in such a remote region, when things go wrong, it can be difficult to get help. Southern Lakes Helicopters are contracted to support the national emergency response with search and rescue and firefighting in the Fiordland region. Emergencies can arise in towns or out in the wilderness, and that is where Southern Lakes Helicopters’ skills, expertise and crew help to respond and save lives.

Safety Manager and Crewman, Richie Hunter is responsible for overseeing all operations from a safety perspective and is a key member of the response team as a winch operator. Richie has a high level of expertise with a background in working with Antarctica NZ, NZ Defence Force and survivalist training missions. He has experience working in challenging conditions including extreme cold, alpine terrain in the Himalayas and at sea. It is this expert training and experience that allows Southern Lakes Helicopters to provide support for emergency responses.

Helicopter Fire Fighting

Whether it’s a small or large fire, Southern Lakes Helicopters are ready to gear up and help extinguish it. With exceptional aircraft capability and 1000L capacity firefighting buckets for every aircraft, the fleet can be mobilised within a few minutes to attend a call-out. Additional ground support of a fuel trailer and experienced support crew means the team can travel further and for longer to attend to remote locations.

Helicopter Search and Rescue

Our local crew and terrain experts have helped with large-scale and major search and rescue efforts. We have access to Alpine, Bush and Marine terrain specialists who join the mission depending on the need of the day. Since 2018, we have been using thermal imaging equipment which has helped significantly in search and rescue call-outs. This is a hand-held unit which is operated by the support crew in the helicopter whilst being clipped in with a harness. This equipment has been pivotal in many of our searches to help locate missing persons quickly and provide the urgent support they need.


Air Winching

Fiordland’s terrain is vast and varied. Some parts of Fiordland are completely inaccessible by foot or vehicle. Flying our fleet of helicopters (including AS350 BA, AS350 B2, AS350 B3 Squirrel’s and BK117 Twin Engine) may be the fastest or only way to access remote areas. Operating a winch has allowed our helicopters to access regions that we cannot land in. It allows for us to get medical professionals into dense rainforest or retrieve people in need from water.


We are passionate about serving our community and it is a big part of our history at Southern Lakes Helicopters. It is our experience and dedication to safety practises that allows us to support the local emergency response teams. Reach out today if you have a project that we can help with.