The Hope family of Mataura knows from experience the Westpac rescue helicopter saves lives.

Donique Hope and her son Mason (5) were at Mataura School on Friday to welcome the Westpac Chopper Appeal bike riders.

The riders left Queenstown at 5.30am and called into schools on the way, including Balfour for morning tea and Longford Intermediate School for lunch.

About three weeks ago Mrs Hope’s husband Gareth, who was usually fit and healthy, started to feel unwell.

He collapsed at home and she called an ambulance.

In Gore Hospital he diagnosed with kidney failure.

‘‘He was hours from death,’’ Mrs Hope said.

He was then flown to Dunedin in the helicopter where he spent six days in critical care fighting blood poisoning.

If it had not been for the helicopter trip the story would have had a different ending, Mrs Hope said.

‘‘He was there in just the nick of time.’’

Former All Blacks Richie McCaw, Mils Muliaina and Jimmy Cowan were part of the appeal ride.

Mr Cowan is a former pupil of Mataura School and Longford Intermediate.

The ride was ‘‘tough’’, he said.

His longest ride before the appeal ride of 250km had been a 130km training ride.