DEBT OF GRATITUDE: Eddy Maher says he owes his life to the Westpac Helicopter Rescue Service. Eddy was transported from Maclea
DEBT OF GRATITUDE: Eddy Maher says he owes his life to the Westpac Helicopter Rescue Service. Eddy was transported from Maclea

Rescue chopper ?no flying bank ad

By SAMANTHA TURNBULL

sturnbull@northernstar.com.au

'A FLOATING billboard for a bank' is how Byron Shire councillor John Lazarus sees the helicopter that saved the life of Eddy Maher and 4700 others.

A speech by Cr Lazarus at last week's council meeting was met with gasps of horror as he questioned the need to donate money to the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service.

Cr Lazarus urged councillors to reconsider allocating $5000 to the service as part of its 2005/06 Section 356 community donations.

"I'm concerned about supporting the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service ? it's run by a bank that makes a billion dollars a year," he said.

"I see it as a floating billboard for the bank."

When Kyogle diesel mechanic Eddy Maher heard about Cr Lazarus's remarks, he said he almost fell off his chair.

"It's insulting, offensive and upsetting," he said.

"He's obviously never had to use the service."

Eddy said he owed his life to the helicopter that transported him from Maclean to Brisbane, via Lismore Base Hospital, after a motocross accident that left him in a two-month coma in 2004.

"There is no doubt about it ? without the helicopter I would not be alive," he said.

"Everyone I know would be disgusted by this and how little this councillor knows about something that has saved so many lives."

The service's general manager, Perry Wells, said more than 4700 people had been rescued by the helicopter over 22 years.

He said that while Westpac was the service's major spon- sor, the majority of their annual $3.5 million operating costs came from community donations.

"The two helicopters are not owned and operated by Westpac, but by a Board of Directors operating in the interests of residents and visitors to the region," Mr Wells said.

"These directors are located throughout the flight area and are therefore locals acting in the interests of locals."

Mr Wells said they were proud to display the Westpac logo on their helicopters because of the financial support the bank provided.

"Without sponsorship of this nature, which incidentally is the longest-running corporate sponsorship in Australia, we would have to ask the community to dig even deeper to ensure its ongoing success and availability," he said.

"I guess the community will have to judge whether they believe their helicopter rescue service is just a floating billboard, or a valued asset in times of urgent need."

At Tuesday's council meeting, Cr Lazarus also said he did not know why the coastguard or Byron Youth Activities Centre would need donations. "The coastguard ? I'm not aware of what they do," he said.

All councillors, except Richard Staples and Peter Westheimer, voted in favour of ignoring Cr Lazarus and going ahead with donating $5000 to the helicopter service.

Other recipients were Brunswick Valley Rescue, Byron Emergency Accommodation Service, the Country Women's Association, Byron Youth Activities Centre, North Coast Academy of Sport, Cape Byron Coastal Patrol and the Variety Club.



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