Sounds Air ‘rescue’ flight organized for top of the south tech festival

The Marlborough Chamber of Commerce's Chris Shaw, left, with Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford on Tuesday.

Anthony Phelps/Stuff

The Marlborough Chamber of Commerce’s Chris Shaw, left, with Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford on Tuesday.

With State Highway 6 destroyed by slips and slumps, a chartered flight over the Whangamoas this week has “saved our bacon”, organisers of a tech festival say.

The Empower Te Rangapikikōtuku eSports and Coding Festival was set to start on Thursday at the ASB Theater in Blenheim, and festival organisers said they couldn’t rely on the road to Nelson being reopened in time for a group of key people to make the event.

Both roads between Blenheim and Nelson remained closed on Tuesday, after a deluge of rain caused damage to SH6 and SH63.

Waka Kotahi acting national maintenance and operations manager Mark Owen said on Monday that it could take up to a week for those roads to open, given the extent of the damage was still unknown.

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Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Pete Coldwell says the festival is “too important” for the children and the businesses of the region not to happen.

BRYA INGRAM/STUFF

Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Pete Coldwell says the festival is “too important” for the children and the businesses of the region not to happen.

“We have no idea when the road may get reopened, and obviously there’s a decent chance that it won’t [before Thursday],” Marlborough Chamber of Commerce general manager Pete Coldwell said.

The chamber had organized the festival in collaboration with iwi, industry, schools and tertiary institutions across Marlborough, Nelson/Tasman and the West Coast.

Coldwell said after hearing of the highway closures, the organising team realised a group of seven event speakers and workshop facilitators from Nelson probably wouldn’t be able to make it to the festival.

That’s when they reached out to Blenheim-based airline, Sounds Air, “to see if they might be able to come to the rescue”.

The airline came back “straight away” to say they could help, Coldwell said.

The cost of the charter flight would be coming from the festival budget, but Coldwell said the fact that Sounds Air managed to get things sorted so quickly, had “saved our bacon”.

Marlborough Boys' College student Jacob Gray, 16, pictured playing 'Rocket League', will be one of many local gamers at the festival.

Brya Ingram/stuff

Marlborough Boys’ College student Jacob Gray, 16, pictured playing ‘Rocket League’, will be one of many local gamers at the festival.

Some of the flight passengers set to arrive in Blenheim on Thursday would be in charge of workshops at the event, including a virtual reality & augmented reality workshop, where young people would have the chance to create their own virtual reality app, and a robotics workshop , which would allow attendees to design, code and make their own aqua bots or drones.

Coldwell said the event organising team was still hoping some young people set to come over from Nelson and the West Coast would be able to make it, “but at the moment we just don’t know”.

“This is going to become the biggest student event across Te Tauihu (top of the south), open to every intermediate and senior school in Marlborough, Nelson, Tasman and the West Coast, so to deliver the inaugural event was crucial, it’s too important for the rangitahi (young people) of the regions and for business for it not to go ahead,” he said.

Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford said on Tuesday Sounds Air was looking at putting on a daily flight between Blenheim and Nelson while the highways were out of action.

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