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Westpac Rescue Helicopter

[11.39 a.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, today I speak about the exceptional efforts of our state's search and rescue services - the work done by Tasmania Police and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter, which, I believe, has been on all our minds lately.

The recent news of the rescue of bushwalker Michael Bowman in July serves as an example of an extraordinary tale of survival against the odds, but represents just another day at the office for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew.

After nine days surviving in the unforgiving Lake St Clair environment, Mr Bowman was discovered and evacuated by the expert Westpac Rescue Helicopter team, which comprises Constable Andrew Oakden, First Class Constable Ingrid Pajak, flight paramedic Andy Summers and pilot Mark Allen.

Even with the significant media coverage around this story, I reiterate - and I am sure all members of the Council will agree - that the physical effort, mental fortitude and utter professionalism by this team, in addition to the rest of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service crew, is nothing short of exceptional.

The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service was introduced in 2000 and has occupied an increasingly significant presence as one of Tasmania's key search and rescue utilities. Managed under the auspices of the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management, I was very impressed by the work carried out by the crew. It is not always reported in the media. With services relating to maritime rescue, medical evacuations, bushwalker rescue and road trauma, it goes without saying the world-class crew goes through extensive training and ongoing professional development.

According to the Department of Police, Fire and Emergency Management's 2017-18 annual report, 452 missions were flown by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter for a total of 751 flying hours. This was up from the previous year, from 384 missions and 748 flying hours. With a bit of basic maths, we can calculate this averages out to more than one mission a day.

Thursday, 18 January 2018 shows just what the team can do in one day, being called to attend five rescue missions across the state during a 24-hour period. According to the media release from Westpac Rescue Helicopter Tasmania, the following was managed.

At 7am, the helicopter attended a serious vehicle crash at Nugent. The driver was flown to the Royal Hobart Hospital in a serious, but stable condition.

At 12.30pm a Personal Locater Beacon was detected at the Leven River. Two people were winched from the area, with one being flown to the North West Regional Hospital.

At 4.30pm, the helicopter conducted a medivac of a person bitten by a Tiger snake in Strahan. The person was transported to the Royal Hobart in a stable condition.

Also at 4.30pm, another personal locater beacon was activated near Waratah. The second Westpac Rescue helicopter was despatched to rescue an adult and three children near Philosopher Falls. They were located and winched from the dense forest.

At 6.50pm, two people from Derby activated an emergency device from the Crossing River in Southwest Tasmania. The people became trapped in a gorge and they were rescued in a high-winch operation and taken to Hobart.

While we all hope that days like this never happen, the Westpac rescue crew trains constantly for this possibility. The outcomes of these rescue missions are a testament to the team's professionalism in the face of an extremely testing set of circumstances, through the hottest, and arguably the most uncomfortable, time of the year in Tasmania. The missions they have been completing in the winter of 2019 demonstrate their versatility and adaptability to hostile and changeable climates.

I have personal experience of the gratitude one feels to the Westpac helicopter crew as many years ago they provided the emergency evacuation of my husband to the Launceston General Hospital from a serious head-on motorcycle accident in the Scottsdale area. Without their help, it is reasonable to assume neither rider would have received the timely care they needed. Often, we take such services for granted, but it really hits home when you are involved and I sincerely thank them for all they do.

I commend the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew on their work and their efforts and I wish them to know how valued they are to all Tasmanians, particularly those who have, or whose friends and family have had, close calls on the road or in the wilderness.

I and all others in this Chamber thank them for doing the important work they do. For the remainder of the year, I wish the Westpac Rescue Helicopter crew safe missions and I congratulate them on the positive outcomes they have already achieved to date.

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