The first day of the Rescue Helicopter Service pilot scheme at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina. January 31, 1982. Photo The Northern Star Archives
The first day of the Rescue Helicopter Service pilot scheme at Lighthouse Beach in Ballina. January 31, 1982. Photo The Northern Star Archives The Northern Star Archives

History: How the chopper rescue service born

A PILOT scheme that ran for five weeks in 1982 provided the impetus for what would later become the region's first rescue helicopter service.

The Northern Star reported that on January 31, 1982, more than 100 people gathered for the launch at Ballina, where the service was greeted with great enthusiasm by the community, police, ambulance, SES, and medical personnel.

The NSW Surf Life Saving Association helicopter adviser, Peter Gard, said at the time the Sydney rescue service had sprung from a similar pilot scheme.

"Helicopters have become an integral part of the disaster network, and have proved their worth," he said.

 

A Hillier UH-12E was provided at a reduced rate by East Coast Helicopters Pty Ltd for the pilot scheme.

It carried two crew, a pilot, and two patients on the outside of the cabin.

The helicopter was called into action before the service was even officially launched.

During training at Ballina, the helicopter was called to assist in a search for a 14-year-old boy believed to have fallen from the cliffs at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head.

The boy was found safe and well.

Following many years of campaigning for a rescue helicopter service for Northern NSW, a service was officially launched in Ballina in December 1982.

Quick Facts:

1982: Service commenced at Ballina SLSC.

1983: Relocated to Lismore with a Bell 206B Jetranger on lease.

1984: SLSA took over the service and provided a replacement Bell Jetranger.

1986: Base moved to Lismore Airport on trial basis.

1990: Moved to current site. Bell Longranger replaced the smaller Bell Jetranger.

1991: Twin engine Dauphin AS365C helicopter purchased.

1996: Service commences 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and a second helicopter purchased.



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