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May 16, 2022

Search for missing man delayed by fogbound chopper

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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.

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  1. Ballina is not without its problems. I have had quite a number of flights diverted to the Gold Coast because of poor visibility at Ballina Airport. This has happened to me on a number of occasions, causing huge inconvenience, and I don’t fly all that often. So it must happen quite regularly. What Tamara Smith doesn’t recognise is the need for the helicopter to be close to Lismore Base Hospital. Ballina Hospital is not equipped like Lismore Base.

  2. Fixed wing RPT operations are effected by adverse crosswinds often at Ballina. This does not effect helicopter operations. Analysis of weather data for both airports reveals a significant operational advantage to basing the service at an airport with a minimal loacalised adverse weather phenomenon.
    As for the stated requirement for the service to be colocated with the Lismore Base Hospital, the helicopter base was reported last year to have become a “stand alone” ambulance station with paramedics and doctors “residing” at the base. As such, there is no need for the two to be colocated. What’s more, the flight time from Ballina Airport to the new helipad on the Lismore Hospital would be 5 minutes.


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