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Helicopter rescues now 1,000 km closer for Gascoyne and Pilbara

By Angus Mackintosh, Thursday April 15, 2021 - 02:22 EST
ABC image
Archie Steadman being taken by Coral Coast Helicopter Services. - ABC

A not-for-profit helicopter rescue service is due to launch in Carnarvon in the middle of this year, filling a much-needed rescue gap across a huge swathe of the Gascoyne and Pilbara.

'Rotors to the Rescue' is being founded by Coral Coast Helicopter Services as a way to formalise and fund the rescue efforts they have been flying for years in the region, including during the recent Carnarvon floods.

"Ninety per cent of those rescue missions we undertake are out of our own wallet," chief executive Justin Borg said.

"This is why we've decided to start the not-for-profit and hopefully have a few of those flights covered through donations."

He said 'Rotors to the Rescue' would officially launch mid-this year.

"We would service anywhere between Carnarvon, Mount Augustus, Karijini, the Kennedy Ranges and all the coastline up toward Exmouth, Onslow, Karratha and south toward Geraldton."

'Desperately needed in the region'

Chris Higham is working alongside Mr Borg to make Rotors to the Rescue a reality.

"My driving passion for this was we lost our son 11 years ago in a mustering accident," she said,

"We had to drive him out and meet the ambulance on the highway."

After a family accident, this April Mrs Higham had to call an ambulance once again.

"My husband [Tim] got dumped into the waves and we had a suspected neck injury," she said. 

"We would've had to drive him 70 kilometres over some very corrugated road."

But after considering the risk to her husband's spine, she made a second call.

"Coral Coast [Helicopter Services] were able to land on the beach within 30 metres of him," Mrs Higham. 

Tim Higham was taken to hospital and has recovered from muscular injuries to his neck.

Seeking faster responses

Their effort to establish a private not-for-profit service follows years of frustration surrounding existing public helicopter rescue services.

The nearest Department of Fire and Emergency Services helicopters are based more than 1,000km away in Perth, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service does not operate any helicopters.

"The decision to send the rescue helicopter takes time ? hours in some cases ? and it's just not acceptable," Mr Borg said.

Mr Borg completed a number of rescues during the Carnarvon floods in February before being grounded by DFES.

He then spent hours waiting for DFES' permission to use Coral Coast helicopters for further rescues, leading some people to remain stranded for more than 24 hours.

DFES Midwest-Gascoyne Superintendent Craig Smith said at the time that Mr Borg was not allowed to complete further rescues because his helicopter was piston-engined.

Once Rotors to the Rescue is made official, Mr Borg hopes to receive funding to purchase aircraft that can carry stretchers and which government agencies will be willing to contract to.


© ABC 2021

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