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29

Riskful Mobil’s Move

Fiordland helicopter search and rescue operations are likely to suffer "drastically" with Mobil's plans to shut down the Milford Sound Aerostop next month

Fiordland helicopter search and rescue operations are likely to suffer "drastically" with Mobil's plans to shut down the Milford Sound Aerostop next month.

Te Anau search and rescue veteran Lloyd Matheson, of Southern Lakes Helicopters, said the closure could dramatically increase the chances of an unsuccessful operation because of extra distances involved in refuelling, "It could, in the long run, create a loss of life if it was in a desperate rescue attempt."

Mr Matheson, a former police sergeant with 25 years' experience in Fiordland search and rescue, said Milford-based search flights would need an extra hour from their three-hour flight time to fly to Te Anau or Queenstown for refuelling.

The aerostop's closure will also create logistical and financial issues for Southland and Central Otago businesses.

Mobil Oil New Zealand spokeswoman Anne Rix said from Melbourne customers and stakeholders had been notified that the service would end in the first week of June.

She also said there had been "extensive" verbal and written consultation with its customers and the community trust about alternative methods of supply.

However, Milford Community Trust chairwoman Jane Taylor said it hadn't really been consulted.
After hearing of the planned closure, the trust sent Mobil a letter in early April highlighting concerns about rescue aircraft's access to fuel and the negative impact on the business community, she said. As of last night Mobil had not replied.

Southern Lakes Helicopters and Milford Helicopters said they had not been consulted.
Jetboat operator Hollyford Track, one of the aerostop's largest customers, said it hadn't been consulted or even informed directly of the closure.

Aviation Industry Association chief executive Irene King in Wellington said it was a strategic depot and the closure could create an unnecessary safety hazard.

She said she was was surprised the association had not been consulted.

Current flight manuals used by pilots list Milford Sound as having fuel available and she said she was concerned about how many aircraft might fly there expecting service.

"It's bloody dangerous getting over there and finding that you've got inadequate fuel to get back.
"The Government should be holding them (Mobil) accountable for some of this.
"It's a bit like saying we're going to knock off the fuel supply to the Chatham Islands." Milford Helicopters owner Jeff Shanks said he had offered to buy the fuel tanks from Mobil but it had refused for reasons of liability.

Mobil told The Southland Times it intended to demolish the facility and remediate the site for environmental reasons.

In 2005, Mobil sold its Milford Sound fuel service to Allied Petroleum because of falling sales.