Glitz and glam takes over for Tamworth Rescue Ball at Tamworth Town Hall

THE city took a walk down memory lane on Saturday night for the glitz and glam of the Tamworth Rescue Ball.

The black and white Great Gatsby-themed ball at the Tamworth Town Hall was a fundraiser for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

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.

The original service was created by The Newcastle branch of Surf Life Saving Australia, as a surf rescue and coastal observation operation during the summer months using a Bell 47 helicopter.

It was at this point that Westpac (then the Bank of NSW) formed a partnership that has paved the way for one of Australia’s longest and most successful community partnerships.

On 20 October 1980 the very first Intensive Care Paramedic from the Ambulance Service of NSW travelled on board for a mission in the Hunter Valley.

With the assistance of additional funds from sponsors and support from the community, the Service commenced 24 hour a day, year round operations in 1981.

In 1990 the community through theAngel One Helicopter Appeal raised $2.5 million to purchase the Service’s first twin engine. The Dauphin helicopter went into service in 1990 providing further capacity for medical and rescue operations.

In May 1993 the Service decided to purchase a Bell 412SP helicopter from the Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan.The helicopter was extensively modified in Brisbane and delivered to Newcastle in September of the same year.

The concept of a service based in the New England and North West of New South Wales regions first surfaced in 1994. Over the next six years the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service worked with strong community support to prepare a submission to the NSW State Government. In March 1999, the NSW Government announced as part of a review of Aeromedical Services in NSW that viable regional services could be established in NSW and Tamworth was one of those sites.

A Bell 407 was sourced in the USA in March 2000 and brought to Australia for fit out, prior to it being commissioned into service. The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service launched the New England - North West operation on Friday 25 August 2000.

In February 2007 the Bell 407 crash landed near Warialda on the way to a motor vehicle accident. Despite the helicopter being severely damaged the pilot, crewman and Medical Practitioner on board were not injured. With the generous support of the community the Rescue Helicopter purchased a twin engine BK117 that year.

In December 2007 the Rescue Helicopter also replaced the single engine Bell 407 working out of Broadmeadow with a twin-engine BK117.

Today, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service operates 4 aircraft, following the recent purchase of an additional twin engine helicopter. This fourth aircraft , a Bell 412EP, was put into service in 2011 and works out of the Broadmeadow base with the older Bell412SP allowing the two BK117 aircraft to work out of the Tamworth base.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service currently undertakes more than 1000 missions each year across the Hunter, New England – North West, Central Coast, Central West and Mid North Coast regions. This area covers approximately 132,000 square kilometers and includes a population of 1.2 million people.

On the back of continued community support, no-one has ever paid to be airlifted from an emergency.