Helicopter pilots emerge as heroes of Canterbury flooding

Helicopter pilots are emerging as the heroes of Canterbury's flooding. 

The region is facing its most significant rainfall in 10 years, with MetService declaring a rare 'red alert' heavy rain warning which was in place until Monday evening.

Severe flooding on Sunday saw pilots push their skills to the limit to save people clinging to trees, fences and perched on car roofs - all while rising water rushed past.

Winchester, in south Canterbury, saw a dramatic helicopter rescue of a man clinging to a fence for survival amongst rushing floodwaters. 

Malcolm Prouting hovered his helicopter just above the waterline, allowing the man to leap from the fence into the aircraft. 

While Prouting has been praised for his skill and accuracy as a pilot there have been rumours he would face sanctions for his rescue efforts.

Those rumours were today squashed by the Civil Aviation Authority which recognised the life-saving role he played. 

In another heroic flight, an Ashburton helicopter pilot saved a farmer who was clinging to a tree for his life. 

Seventeen roads in the Winchester district are closed, and at least four bridges have been damaged or washed away by the flooding.

One half of the Winchester Bridge was dammed by tonnes of wood and debris overnight, and when floodwater couldn't pass through, it ripped and tore a gaping hole in the structure - the hole cutting off the main road into neighbouring Geraldine.

The red-alert weather warning for Canterbury was lifted by MetService at 8:15pm on Monday. The only warning in place for the region now is an orange heavy rain warning that will be in place until 12am on June 1.

The deluge was caused by a large low hovering across Aotearoa - the tail end causing carnage in the South Island.