A file photo of the Westpac Rescue Life Saver Helicopter in action. A pilot shortage grounded the helicopter while Canadian tourist needed rescuing at Whian Whian Falls, Dunoon.
A file photo of the Westpac Rescue Life Saver Helicopter in action. A pilot shortage grounded the helicopter while Canadian tourist needed rescuing at Whian Whian Falls, Dunoon.

Shortage grounds chopper

A PILOT shortage grounded the Westpac Rescue Life Saver Helicopter on Friday while a tourist needed rescuing at Whian Whian Falls, Dunoon.

A back-up helicopter from the Gold Coast was sent to the rescue instead, however by the time that helicopter arrived, the Canadian man, who had back flipped off the falls and collided with another swimmer, had received CPR and regained consciousness and was transferred by road ambulance to Lismore Base Hospital.

Friday's pilot shortage is the second time the Westpac Life Saver Helicopter has been grounded in the past month after a pilot resigned last month with no replacement expected for two weeks said chief crewperson Roger Fry.

"We've been operating on a three-pilot roster system since mid-October," Mr Fry said.

Under that roster, pilots work 48 hours straight, living and sleeping on base, then have 48 hours leave, then are on call for the next 48 hours Mr Fry said.

"We normally have a four-pilot roster, so there is the potential for fatigue limitations with the three-pilot roster," he said.

"On Friday one of those three pilots was ill and because of fatigue issues we did not have another pilot on standby," he said.

When the Lismore helicopter is unavailable, using a rescue service from either Tamworth or south-east Queensland could add 20-35 minutes to the response time, depending on the location of the emergency, Mr Fry said.

"It's not an ideal situation," he said.

Finding a properly-trained replacement pilot was a top priority for the service.

"At the end of the day it comes down to funding," Mr Fry said.

The special training of a pilot to the level needed can cost as much as $100,000 before wages are even applied Mr Fry said.

Having four pilots was the optimum situation Mr Fry said; however with additional funding the service would welcome having six pilots in the team.

"We would like to work towards having four pilots and a chief and deputy pilot permanently stationed here," he said.

"Extra funding would assist us and we are looking at increasing our crew to six."



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