To launch Helicopter Awareness Week are some of the past patients. It is the first time such a group has got together.
To launch Helicopter Awareness Week are some of the past patients. It is the first time such a group has got together. Jacklyn Wagner

Tributes to a life saver of 27yrs

YESTERDAY'S reunion of past patients of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter graphically illustrated the human impact of the service on the Northern Rivers community over the past three decades.

Most who attended the event with family members, as a prelude to Helicopter Awareness Week, said they owed their lives to the service and remained eternally grateful.

It is 27 years since the service was introduced, initially as a surf patrol service in Ballina.

Today the helicopter services an area of 60,000 square kilometres from the Queensland border down to Nambucca Heads, and as far west as Tenterfield and Glen Innes.

It can be also sent anywhere in NSW or South-East Queensland in an emergency.

From a skeleton crew of volunteers in the 1980s the service now employs 25 full-time staff, including specially-trained doctors and NSW Ambulance paramedics, as well as highly-experienced pilots and crew.

The service has flown more than 6200 life-saving missions in that time and now averages about six missions a week.

It remains on constant 24-hour readiness 365 days a year forrescues, searches and accidents.

With an annual running cost of $6.5 million, the service depends on the support of the community and business which provide almost 70 per cent of its income.

The Westpac Bank is the single biggest contributor.

The service has dropped its annual doorknock appeal and this year will post a donation envelope to every household in the region during Helicopter Awareness Week.

It kicks off tomorrow with apublic open day at the Lismorehelibase from 9am to 2pm.

Visitors can meet the pilots and crew and check out the helicopter and emergency service displays. There will be entertainment and a sausage sizzle, plus fun for the kids including an appearance of celebrity pilot Kev the Koala.

2010 helicopter budget: $6.5m

• $8500 for an average mission

• $30,000 to train a crew member

• $77,000 to train a new pilot

• $1.1 million for new gearbox

• $194,500 for a new winch

• $62,000 for a 600-hour service

• $140,000 winch overhaul

• $144,400 to replace each rotor blade

• $750,000 complete single-engine overhaul (two engines per aircraft)

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