The search for a rock fisherman missing of the NSW north coast yesterday was hampered by the fact that the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter could not respond to requests for assistance owing to fog at its Lismore Helibase.
The NSW Ambulance Service has admitted that it attempted to task the helicopter to the search at Red Rock, near Coffs Harbour, at around 6.45am on Thursday but the helicopter was grounded by fog.
A helicopter eventually dispatched from Queensland took double the time to arrive at the scene.
NSW Ambulance told media that ‘weather events unavoidably affect all NSW helicopter bases.’
‘NSW Ambulance was not able to provide a helicopter to aid in this operation in this instance from Lismore or Newcastle,’ the service said in a media release.
‘In line with procedures the lead agency in search and rescue operations, the NSW Police Force then tasked other search and rescue assets as they determined appropriate to assist in the search.
‘The Lismore helicopter has served the community effectively for over 33 years whilst operating from Lismore,’ the Ambulance Service said.
But Ballina Greens MP, Tamara Smith, who has been fighting to move the helicopter base to Ballina on the grounds that the chopper would be grounded less frequently said it ‘beggars belief when we know that fog has been an issue’.
‘It’s not about money, this is about public safety,’ Ms Smith told ABC this morning.
Last month NSW Ambulance announced a move of the base to Lismore’s frequently fog-bound airport following a review by health emergency and aeromedical services ED, Dr Ron Manning.
Kim Hanlon, a retired intensive care paramedic who worked at the service for a decade went on ABC’s 7.30 program last week to air his concerns, and those of service pilots and paramedics who he said couldn’t speak for themselves.
‘Lives can be in jeopardy, yes, because you [would] now have a $20 million machine with a doctor and a paramedic and it’s grounded,’ he told the program.