The Westpac-sponsored Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service commenced its 10-year contract to provide helicopter retrieval and rescue services in the state’s north, covering an area north of Sydney’s Hawkesbury River up to the Queensland border, on March 7 .
NSW Minister for Health Brad Hazzard officially launched the service – which is part of the NSW government’s new $151.2 million state-wide helicopter retrieval network – from its brand new base at Lake Macquarie Airport, Belmont, south of Newcastle, on March 10.
The service will operate four long-nose Leonardo AW139 helicopters across northern NSW from Belmont, from a new base built at Lismore Airport, and from a refurbished and extended base at Tamworth Airport.
The service’s legacy Broadmeadow base in Newcastle will be retained as the Northern Region’s administrative headquarters and heavy maintenance facility.
The AW139s offer both speed and endurance improvements over the Bell 412s which they have replaced in Newcastle, while their medical interior fit-out includes a ‘zero lift’ patient loading arm to assist aircrew and paramedics load and unload Newborn Emergency Transport Service (NETS) specialist cribs and stretchered patients.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service’s chief executive Richard Jones said considerable training and preparation work had been undertaken since the service was announced as the successful tenderer in December 2014.
“This work is a great credit to our pilots, crews, engineers and NSW Ambulance medical teams in Belmont, Broadmeadow, Lismore and Tamworth,” said Jones.
“I acknowledge their efforts and hard work and we are very proud of everything that has been achieved.”
AW139 VH-ZXB, callsign ‘Westpac 2’, flew the service’s first mission on March 7, an inter-hospital transfer from Armidale to the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle.
The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service is due to commence its new service from Lismore in mid-April and from Tamworth in mid May.