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July 1, 2022

Six critical accidents missed by fog-bound chopper in March

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Critical accidents are being missed by the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter owing to fog at its Lismore base. Photo contributed
Critical accidents are being missed by the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter owing to fog at its Lismore base. Photo contributed

Chris Dobney

The Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was unable to attend six urgent overnight cases last month due to fog, Echonetdaily can reveal.

They included a young child who was injured after falling from a second storey window, a bushwalker lost in remote bushland and a man suffering severe trauma and blood loss after a car accident.

Health Services Union (HSU) secretary Gerard Hayes said that if the helicopter was based ‘anywhere in the region apart from Lismore, these people would have received the best medical and rescue services Australia offers and would have been quickly and safely transported to hospitals.’

‘Instead they were assisted by rescuers on the ground and made to wait much longer before they received appropriate medical care,’ he said.

At the time of the child’s accident, Lismore was blanketed in severe fog and the helicopter had to be parked offline at Ballina for the night because it wasn’t able to land back at its Lismore helibase.

Paramedics had to rush the child to hospital by road ambulance.

Freezing overnight

In the case of the bushwalker, police had called on the helicopter to search the remote area early at first light.

The search area had clear blue skies, however fog clouded the skies over Lismore and the chopper couldn’t take off.

The bushwalker had spent a freezing night in the bush alone. Police and volunteers had to search the remote area for the person on foot.

Severe blood loss

A driver involved in a horrific car crash, with part of his leg ripped off, was also denied the helicopter’s services owing to fog.

The severely injured driver was trapped unconscious at the scene suffering severe blood loss, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries and chest trauma.

Paramedics and rescue workers at the scene had requested the urgent assistance of the helicopter.

They had identified a landing spot and reported clear skies over the scene only to be told the chopper was fogged in and could respond.

Sources say the critical patient was unable to be transported to a major trauma hospital until the following day, delaying much-needed specialist services.

The patient remains in a hospital.

Lismore unsuitable

HSU’s Gerard Hayes believes there are too many occasions where helicopter rescue operations are delayed or cancelled because of fog in the Lismore area and says lives are being put at risk.

‘The public expects helicopter rescue services to be available around the clock to deal with emergencies and our members are frustrated by the government’s failure to address their complaints,’ Mr Hayes said.

‘On almost two thirds of the nights in March this year we have seen the Lismore chopper out of action because of heavy fog and that’s just not good enough,’ he said.

‘We are calling on minister Jillian Skinner to move helicopter rescue operations to a more suitable location. Moving the Westpac Helicopter from Lismore airport to another location in Lismore isn’t an acceptable solution.’

Mr Hayes said other sites including Ballina had been considered and were likely to be more appropriate than Lismore.

‘Our members are telling us that anywhere else on the north coast would be better than Lismore,’ Mr Hayes said.

Mr Hayes said rescue crews had been waiting for too long for this bureaucratic issue to be resolved and it was time for the Minister to step in and show some common sense before lives were lost.

Life Saver Rescue Helicopter GM Kris Beavis declined to comment on the specific incidents, saying ‘We’ve been requested to provide NSW Ambulance with some mission related information. That’s been done, although it’s not specifically related to what you’re referring to, and we’re awaiting a response from them.’

Ambulance NSW responds

According to a statement from NSW Ambulance, ‘After a review of Aeromedical Services in 2012, which included extensive stakeholder consultation, no objections were received regarding concerns about the potential impact of fog on aeromedical operations in Lismore, or a need to move the helicopter base away from Lismore.

‘However, as a result of recent concerns raised by some aeromedical staff and the Health Services Union (HSU) about fog affecting the availability of the Lismore helicopter, Dr Ron Manning, Executive Director Health Emergency & Aeromedical Services will seek aviation expertise to review and analyse weather data, inclusive of data received from the HSU in recent weeks and report back to him with their findings.

‘The review will consider the impact of fog on aeromedical activities at Lismore,’ the statement read.


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