Chairman’s wish is to keep chopper flying

February 5, 2016

Forget futile New Year’s Resolutions. The wish of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service’s Bingara Volunteer Support Group is to keep the chopper in the air in 2016.

The service, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2015, is now in its 13th year in the local community, with the Bingara branch one of 16 groups in New England North West NSW.

However, with an ageing membership and limited active participants, the selfless group is diminishing each year.

"Some of our members are in their 80s," chair Geoff Lewis explained. "It will be difficult to keep going without some new volunteers."

To put the issue into perspective, Mr Lewis explained that in a country community such as Bingara, the medical retrieval can be called upon as frequently as every six weeks. But without the contribution of its dedicated volunteer network raising funds for the service, the helicopter would not be able to lift off the ground.

"We hold barbecues at bull sales, race days and clearing auctions," Mr Lewis said.

"But with only half a dozen active members and an ageing group, we are struggling for numbers."

Mr Lewis said that everything earned by the Support Group remains in the region.

"All the money raised in the community stays in the community," he pointed out.

Already well-supported by local businesses, Mr Lewis said potential volunteers can contribute as much or as little time as they wish.

"Give as much as you want to give, do what you can."

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service had its beginnings as a humble beach patrol service at the Newcastle branch of Surf Life Saving Australia. It is now a world-class aeromedical search and rescue operation.

The first intensive care paramedic from the Ambulance Service of NSW travelled aboard the chopper for a mission to the Hunter Valley in 1980.

The concept of a service based in the New England and North West regions of NSW first surfaced in 1994.

During the ensuing six years, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service worked with strong community support to prepare a submission to the NSW Government. In March 1999, as part of a review of aeromedical services in NSW, it was confirmed that viable regional services could be established in NSW. Tamworth, the headquarters for Bingara, was one of those sites.