Surf Life Saving Queensland celebrates 40 years of helicopter rescue

H135 ‘Lifesaver 45’ is one of two helicopters owned and operated by Surf Life Saving Queensland who are celebrating 40 years of service. (Paul Sadler)
H135 ‘Lifesaver 45’ is one of two helicopters owned and operated by Surf Life Saving Queensland. (Paul Sadler)

South-east Queensland’s Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter Rescue Service (WLRHS) has celebrated its 40th anniversary since the service conducted its first beach patrol on December 5 1976 using a Bell 206A JetRanger.

The Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) owned and operated service is accredited with saving more than 850 lives and joins the Sydney and the Newcastle based Westpac-sponsored services as being one of the oldest civil rescue helicopters services in the world.

“There are almost 1,000 people still walking around today because the service has saved their life,” said WLRHS chief pilot Paul Gibson.

“The helicopter is major asset to the surf life saving organisation and our surf lifesavers. It is our last line of defence to protect the public.”

Although 2016 formally marks the 40th anniversary of the WLRHS, its origins can be traced back to the summer season of 1965-66 when the helicopter rescue service was first trialled in Queensland in response to state’s booming tourism industry.

The service originally operated from a helipad at Miami Hill at the southern end of the Gold Coast and was known then as the Wales Helicopter Surf Rescue Service.

Having now flown in excess of 10,000 missions, the WLRHS currently operates an Airbus Helicopters H135, callsign ‘Lifesaver 45’, and BO105 CBS-5 ‘Super 5’, ‘Lifesaver 46’, from its two bases at Carrara on the Gold Coast and Caloundra Airport on the Sunshine Coast.

Both helicopters patrol the coastline from Rainbow Beach to Rainbow Bay on weekends during the service’s regular patrol season, which runs from September through to May each year, and during other peak periods.

In addition to its life saving work, SLSQ also provides the Queensland Police Service with a dedicated helicopter surveillance capability under contract.