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Byron Shire
May 6, 2021

Decision on rescue helicopter’s ‘fog-bound’ base

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Critical accidents are being missed by the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter owing to fog at its Lismore base. Photo contributed
A review of the proposed new base for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter at Lismore Airport says fog is rarely a problem. Photo contributed

NSW Ambulance has completed a review of the new location for the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service’s larger fleet, due next year – and not everyone is happy about the outcome.

Health emergency and aeromedical services ED, Dr Ron Manning, announced yesterday that the new helibase would remain in Lismore, despite concerns from Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith and a number of helicopter staff about the propensity for fog at the site during winter.

Helicopter service GM Kris Beavis said he was pleased ‘that a decision has been reached in regard to the location’ of the new helicopter base.

‘The important element of today’s decision is that we can move forward with the construction of a new base immediately, allowing for the delivery and commencement of operations of the new AW139 aero-medical helicopters from April 2017,’ Mr Beavis said.

Nationals Lismore MP Thomas George went further, saying he ‘welcomed the findings of the independent review into the suitability of the new base for the… Helicopter [service] remaining in Lismore.’

But Ms Smith is unimpressed, saying that ‘when you consider that this service is there for hundreds of thousands of people in communities around the New South Wales northern region, don’t we deserve the very best?’

‘I have been persuaded by the information about fog and flooding as inhibiting the capability of the helicopter rescue service to attend critical accidents and emergencies,’ she said.

‘The service saved my daughter’s life when she was 18 months old and the thought of any family losing a loved one because the service cannot take off is unimaginable.’

But Mr Beavis said the question regarding suitability of a new base was first raised in late 2015, ‘and in responding to that enquiry, the Lismore service thought the issue may have been addressed’.

‘The matter was raised again in March 2016, with flight data re-considered in the context of specific missions cancelled due to fog. This analysis indicated that our availability to respond to emergencies was in the high 90 per cent bracket.

‘I believe that the scope of investigation by the independent aviation auditor has been very thorough,’ he said.

Mr Beavis said that since 1983 the Service had conducted more than 8,300 life-saving missions from its existing Lismore base.

‘Every mission is conducted with an absolute focus on safety, and our availability and outcomes speak to this – we are very proud of what we do for our community,’ he said.

Mr George said that ‘during my time as a director of the Service or over its 30 years of operation [at its existing base] I never recall there being any operational issues or limitations due to the weather.’

But Ms Smith says she still holds out hope that the health minister may reconsider.

‘We know the paramedics and pilots of the helicopter rescue service are world class. I would have liked to have seen a helicopter base in a world class location to support their great work.’

‘If you have a choice of locations, why would you not make the best possible choice?

‘Ultimately this was a decision for the minister for health, Jillian Skinner, and it is now a matter for her. I will be watching and monitoring the situation very closely,’ Ms Smith said.


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