SURF Life Saving Queensland’s eye in the sky – the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service (WLRHS) – today celebrates a significant milestone, notching up four decades of saving lives.
Formally established on 5 December 1976, the WLRHS is one of the oldest community-based helicopter rescue services in the world and, since its inception 40 years ago, has directly saved the lives of more than 850 people along Queensland’s coastline and flown in excess of 10,000 missions.
Reflecting on the milestone, chief pilot Paul Gibson said the service had undergone significant periods of change across the past four decades but its core vision of saving lives had remained the same.
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“For the past 40 years the Westpac Helicopter has provided a vital service across South East Queensland, with our pilots and crew saving hundreds of lives and assisting countless others through preventative actions,” Mr Gibson said.
“Over the years our services have expanded and our technology has evolved, but one thing that will never change is our unwavering commitment to saving lives and protecting Queenslanders,” he said.
Since its inception, the WLRHS has developed into one of SLSQ’s core lifesaving weapons, operating around the clock with pilots and crew on-call 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
Two lifesaver helicopters operate from hangars based on both the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, covering our coastline from Rainbow Beach to Rainbow Bay.
It dedicates 700 hour patrol hours each year to aerial beach surveillance, shark alerts and search and rescue operations.
“The Westpac helicopter has developed into a major asset to the surf lifesaving movement in Queensland, not only for the safety of beachgoers below but also when it comes to the protection of our lifesavers and lifeguards as well,” Mr Gibson said.
“There have been times in the past when beaches are closed and the surf conditions have been too dangerous for our lifesavers to be out in the water and, in those instances, the Westpac helicopter is literally our last line of defence and the only asset that can still go out and perform a rescue.
“There are 850-odd people out there walking around today who owe their lives to the Westpac helicopter and, for us as pilots and crew, there’s no greater reward than that.
“The helicopter was introduced 40 years ago to save lives, and that’s exactly what it’s done,” he said.