Rescue crews living dangerously

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.
Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.

IT'S nothing short of horrible, but its a situation emergency crews know they must face.

Body retrieval is an arduous task led by the police but requiring a multi-agency response, sometimes from all emergency services.

Last Friday, emergency crews spent about six hours retrieving a man's body from the bottom of a 100-metre cliff at Cape Byron.

Police rescue officers had to abseil down to the body that was in a difficult rocky location.

The Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was called in and a crew member was winched down to retrieve the body, in full view of tourists.

The complex operation was a very visual example of the sort of work emergency crews have to risk and endure.

NSW Ambulance duty officer Inspector Greg Powell said paramedics initially responded to suicides to establish whether the people involved had actually died.

Insp Powell said winch operations executed during body retrievals could be dangerous for paramedics.

"It is a very safe practice and well planned but there is always the risk and element of danger," Insp Powell said.

"It does affect all those involved."

The Woodburn SES unit, as a primary accredited response team, regularly assists police in search and rescue and body retrieval operations.

Unit controller Jim McCormack said those kinds of tasks took a toll on people.

"We debrief (after a fatality) and we sometimes talk about the waste of life and the effect it has on a whole range of people, from family and friends to (emergency services)," Mr McCormack said.

"We are all affected in a different way but it's a form of trauma we could do without."

Pilot Lynton Beggs, of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, said the helicopter was called in by police to help with difficult suicide retrievals, such as the Cape Byron one.

"We are very conscious of the impact to family and friends so when we assist police to make a body retrieval we try to make it as smooth as possible," he said.

If you need help with depression call Lifeline's 24-hour crisis line on 131114

Topics:  surf life saving

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