One year on from Cyclone Gabrielle: Helicopter pilot recalls dramatic rescue of elderly woman and her dog

A Hawke's Bay rescue pilot, who is one of many heroes reflecting one year on from Cyclone Gabrielle, has recalled a dramatic rescue that still brings tears to his eyes.  

Local pilots were monumental in saving people and animals from floodwaters in dangerous conditions, often without direction from officials.    

Joe Faram, a helicopter pilot rescuing people in Hawke's Bay, helped hundreds of people into his chopper - but one memory sticks out, including a resident and her missing dog. 

Faram was interviewed by AM last year where he revealed the dramatic rescue.   

"There was an elderly couple on a roof with the water coming over the top of the spouting and they had a fox terrier," Faram told AM in February last year.  

"I got my crewman onto the roof to get the people ready to be lifted and this dog was struggling in the water, being carried by quite a tide and the IRB boat that was floating around picking up people, they intercepted and got the dog. When we got the elderly couple, she was in tears for the dog. When she was reunited with the dog that was something." 

A year on, Faram was asked about that dramatic rescue by AM co-host Melissa Chan-Green, who was broadcasting live from the Omāhu Marae in Hastings. 

He told AM it still brings quite a lot of emotion to him 

"You have special moments that come back to you and that was particularly one because we had an absolutely desperate situation with very emotional people and they had lost their livelihoods and their homes and all their belongings, and they had their pride and joy, their little dog, in their hands," he recalled.  

"For us to fly in and see that dog escape and go into the floodwaters, and then for her to be onboard and extremely distraught over the situation, for me to be able to point out that the dog had been rescued by an IRB boat, she went from a lady that was so distressed to I've just won Lotto and the gratitude. Even my crewman, it brings tears to us when we really dwell on that moment, it was a very special moment." 

Faram rescued hundreds of people as Cyclone Gabrielle tore through East Coast communities, including one of his first rescues, which was a baby just days old.  

Joe Faram, a helicopter pilot rescuing people in Hawke's Bay, told AM the rescue still brings tears to his eyes.
Joe Faram, a helicopter pilot rescuing people in Hawke's Bay, told AM the rescue still brings tears to his eyes. Photo credit: AM

A year on  Faram is relieved things we devastating effects went so much worse than they were.  

"My biggest fear was that we missed someone. We'd fly over homes and there would be no one on the roof and then minutes later, there was someone on the roof that had broken out through the ceiling onto the roof or whatever," he recalled.  

"So my concern was there someone out there that we hadn't managed to find."  

Another rescue that stands out to Faram was a stranded horse who he hopes to meet again some day. 

"Animals are very innocent and... we had noticed this horse and for three days were flying over it and I eventually said to my crewman, we're going to land there, no one else is dying at the moment let's get this horse out of there," he told AM.  

"You have to learn, you win the horse's confidence, so I spoke and spent a little bit of time calming the horse and feeding him, but it wouldn't lead, so I took my belt off and I'm leading it and the horse will hesitate when they're unsure of its footing and I was encouraging it to walk through this silted area and the next thing the horse bolted, my pants dropped off, and I'm trying to walk through the silt," Faram told AM.   

"We got through the silt and got my pants back on and I'd love to reunite with that horse. It was between Puketapu and Dartmoor on the stopbanks and its fellow horse was one that was found on top of a roof."  

Watch the full interview above.