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Our history

In 1929 a boy was born next to the runway in Wellington, his name was Peter Button. He grew up watching planes and helping out at the local fire station. From that runway, Peter’s passion for flying became a vision for a better way for New Zealand.

Peter Button Life Flight Helicopter

The Wahine disaster

Peter’s house shook as Cyclone Giselle, one of the worst storms to ever hit New Zealand, reached Wellington in 1968. He heard the cyclone had caused the inter-island ferry Wahine to come aground in Wellington Harbour so he rushed to the beach to help.

As 51 people drowned in sight of shore Peter realised a helicopter would have been able to rescue people from the sea. On that beach he said the words that founded Life Flight, “There has to be a better way.”

History in the making

Despite challenging bureaucracy and lack of funding Peter learned to fly and created a rescue helicopter service with the help of neurosurgeon Dr Russell Worth. They made history and eventually their work culminated in the launch of The Life Flight Trust. The Trust’s operations and equipment set records and lead the way in air rescue work in New Zealand and around the world.

Russell Worth and chopper.JPG

Russell Worth Life Flight Westpac Rescue Helicopter
Life Flight Co-Founder Dr Russell Worth

Local hero

Peter Button became a household name and a local hero. In 1982 his work was recognised with an OBE and he also received a Queen’s Gallantry Medal for bravery in 1987.

Tragedy strikes

In 1987 Peter was flying the Westpac Rescue Helicopter on a police mission when the machine hit power lines. The crash was fatal for all those onboard.

Thousands lined the streets of Wellington for the memorial service and a cortege of helicopters flew overhead to honour the loss of one of New Zealand’s heroes.

The Governor-General, Sir Paul Reeves, became patron of The Life Flight Trust and a public appeal was launched in Peter’s memory. Donations poured in to continue his vision.

The dream is realised

Peter Button’s incredible vision of a 24/7 dedicated emergency air service has gone on to save more than 30,000 lives around New Zealand. Through the support of the community, Life Flight has become the organisation one pioneering New Zealander dreamed of.

We're grateful that Peter's son, Clive Button, remains an active part of our organisation. He was one of the original crewmen on the helicopter, and continues to be involved as an aircraft engineer and an ambassador for Life Flight. 

Find out how you can help continue Peter Button's life-saving dream.