Westpac Rescue Helicopter winching operations return to North West

REINSTATED: Paramedic Alessandro Simeoli, MP Kevin Anderson, air crew officer Sean Maher and Westpac Helicoper Service CEO Richard Jones OAM. Photo: Supplied
REINSTATED: Paramedic Alessandro Simeoli, MP Kevin Anderson, air crew officer Sean Maher and Westpac Helicoper Service CEO Richard Jones OAM. Photo: Supplied

IT’S taken five years and a community push, but the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service finally has its winching capabilities back. On Thursday, MP Kevin Anderson said winching would resume for the region’s chopper, after ceasing in 2013 following a review. It means a chopper service with all the bells and whistles for the region.

Surrounded by the service’s chopper crew, doctors and paramedics at the Tamworth base, Mr Anderson and Westpac Helicopter CEO Richard Jones hailed the big return as a “special day” for the region.

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“About five years ago the winching service was withdrawn from the Tamworth New England North West Region, purely for safety reasons at the time,” Mr Jones said.

“While we didn’t think much of the decision at the time, it was one that needed to be made.

“With the advent of the new aircraft, and new contract and 24/7 staff, there are lots more opportunities for our people to train.”

Mr Jones also revealed the Westpac Rescue Helicopter board had pledged further funding for ongoing winch training, at a meeting on Wednesday night.

While winching had been scheduled to return to the region last year, Mr Jones said the delay was an operational and safety decision, with the training and safety of crew and the public in mind.

Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson said the arrival of advanced Agusta-Westland 139 helicopters, and major upgrades to the base and operations at Tamworth, contributed to the decision along with a $151.2 million government investment in a state-wide Helicopter Retrieval Network.

“It’s a significant day and a significant part of the service,” he said.

“We believe it’s a vital service. We believe it’s a service that completes the package of aeromedical retrieval.

“We want to thank NSW ambulance, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service for their diligence over the last five years in coming into line with the rest of the state to be able to now provide a uniformed aeromedical retrieval service.”

When winching was axed in the area in 2013, the region was forced to call on aircraft from other parts of the state for winching-related missions.