The April 2015 Super Storm that hit the region wreaked havoc over much of the area covered by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
The Service with its partners in the emergency service chain – including doctors and paramedics – did a wonderful job. Assistance given to those in need supported outstanding community and volunteer efforts.
The raw figures speak for themselves: seven fatalities, 3409 triple-0 calls, 11-metre waves off the coast, 135 km/h winds off Nobbys, 312mm of rain in 24 hours in Dungog, 5500 properties without water and 90 flood rescues across the Hunter.
During the storm period the rescue Helicopters conducted 15 primary missions, four search and rescue missions, three secondary hospital transfers and one relief flight. These included transporting a stranded woman in labour and winching a man and his dog trapped by floodwaters and a soon to be mum from her ‘island’ home in Gilleston Heights.
The storm served to remind our region of the value of the Rescue Helicopter and its commitment to our community.
In December 2014 the NSW Government announced that the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service was successful tender to deliver aeromedical services throughout the Northern NSW regions from 2017.
Under the contract the Service will operate Augusta Westland 139 aircraft out of its bases at Newcastle, Tamworth and eventually Lismore. Presently our colleagues in the Westpac Northern Life Saver Rescue Helicopter Service operate out of Lismore and, under an agreement, the base will be operated by an amalgamation of the Services from the first quarter of 2017.
Of particular interest is question about the impact, if any, on community fund-raising. The answer is that this model of funding from both the community and Government will need to continue.
The community has responded well to news of the larger area to cover and there are strong indications that as we enter our next decade the communities of Central Coast, Hunter, Mid-North Coast, Northern Rivers, New England and North West will continue to help to ensure that no one who needs the Service ever has to pay.
Since 1975 the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service has grown from a part-time voluntary summer beach patrol to world-class aeromedical search and rescue operation.
No one has ever paid to be assisted by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. That is because their fellow citizens and the NSW Government through NSW Health and the Ambulance Service of NSW provide the funds that ensure the rescue helicopters are there when and where they are needed.