The Westpac helicopter commonly used in ocean search and rescue missions, owned by Surf Life Saving Australia.
The Westpac helicopter commonly used in ocean search and rescue missions, owned by Surf Life Saving Australia. Surf Life Saving Australia

Campaign for Coffs Coast emergency helicopter base

THERE are calls on the State Government to fund a permanent search and rescue emergency helicopter service, based in Coffs Harbour and servicing the north of the state.

Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Stuart Davidson has raised the plight of the Sydney-based Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service, which is attached to Surf Life Saving Australia.

Currently the organisation is seeking $2.5 million from the State Government to establish a Mid North Coast helicopter base, which would significantly reduce the cost of using a helicopter sent from Sydney for search and rescue operations.

Newcastle-based Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service CEO Richard Jones has clarified the situation after the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers press release was circulated calling on the State Government to action the funding request.

Mr Jones said a number of helicopter services nationally hold the naming right partnerships with Westpac Bank, however each service is independently owned.

"The Media Release Helicopter Critical for Coffs refers to the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, the organisation is based in Sydney and is an independent subsidiary of and is wholly owned by Surf Life Saving Australia," Mr Jones said.

The Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter Service has been tasked to airlift a cruise ship passenger to Coffs Harbour.
The Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter Service has been tasked to airlift a cruise ship passenger to Coffs Harbour. Lifesaver Helicopter Service

"This is potentially confusing to the Coffs Harbour community, as the organisation is entirely separate from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, which currently services the region," he said.

The North Coast Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, based in Lismore complements a fleet of three ambulance helicopters also including the Tamworth and Belmont rescue helicopters.

The helicopter flies weekly missions to Coffs Harbour and undertakes search and rescues, emergency responses and inter hospital transfers.

This service is operated in partnership with NSW Ambulance and NSW Health and is commonly referred to as a 'flying ICU.'

CHOPPER: Paramedics from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter arrive at the scene of the car crash at Arrawarra on Thursday, September 7, 2017.
CHOPPER: Paramedics from the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter arrive at the scene of the car crash at Arrawarra on Thursday, September 7, 2017. Trevor Veale

Mr Davidson said according to a business case by the Sydney-based helicopter service there is widespread concern amongst local emergency service workers that rescue helicopters are being sourced from Sydney to attend beach rescues and searches in Northern NSW.

"The Government has been sitting on a business case from December 2018, which states Northern NSW lacks a search and rescue helicopter that can respond to time-critical emergency events," Mr Davidson said.

"These helicopters are the difference between life and death.

"The NSW Ambulance helicopter, commonly relied upon by Coffs Harbour, is based in Lismore and has a "significant workload" and can only provide support for a limited time, whilst major search a rescue operations require support helicopters to be sent from Sydney.

"How much is costing us every time we have to out-source to Lismore or Sydney.

"The Government needs to act on this now before it costs us, not only more money, but lives as well.

"Our emergency services are already stretched to the limit and we need to back them up with adequate resources to do their job.



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