The Northern Rivers Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, file photo.
The Northern Rivers Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter, file photo.

Fatigue no problem at chopper base

THE NORTHERN Rivers Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter has rejected media reports that they were unable to attend a rescue at Yamba on Sunday because of flying hours clocked up searching for a lost bushwalker.

The Westpac helicopter only flew two missions on Friday as part of the emergency services' search for the missing Goonellabah woman and say the problem on Sunday was simply because a pilot was off work sick.

"It was certainly nothing to do with fatigue," a Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter spokesperson told The Northern Star.

The bushwalker was missing for three days near Mt Nardi in the Nightcap National Park, prompting a huge search effort that was called off on Saturday evening, shortly before the woman found her own way out and called her husband.

Bruised and dehydrated but otherwise okay, she spent Saturday night in Lismore Base Hospital as a precaution.

On Sunday afternoon, a Yamba teenager suffered suspected spinal injuries after hitting his head while playing on rocks below the lighthouse.

He was airlifted to Gold Coast Hospital by the Gold Coast-based CareFlight Helicopter after the Westpac chopper was unavailable.

Reports that the CareFlight Helicopter was called in because Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter pilots had been grounded after exceeding their flying hours were "simply wrong" the spokesperson said yesterday.

"We had a pilot sick which happens from time to time," she said. "We sometimes do missions for CareFlight, and vice versa - it's nothing unusual.

"We work together with all emergency services to be sure there is aero-medical support available at all times, and we've covered for CareFlight in the past.

"It was absolutely nothing to do with that search, it was simply because we had a pilot off sick."

The Westpac helicopter was twice tasked to Mt Nardi to participate in the search in dense bushland, but only on Friday.

At 1.50pm police called the service to search for the missing bushwalker and it spent about an hour unsuccessfully sweeping the area.

The rescue chopper was called back again at 7.55pm, for a similar length mission, to use night vision goggles and thermal imaging, but was again unsuccessful.

"It's usually never a problem but at the moment we have a three-pilot roster, in accordance with our contract and CASA regulations," the spokesperson said.

"We're currently training a new pilot after a pilot resigned, but he's not ready to fly yet.

General manager, Kris Beavis, confirmed the situation.

"It is not uncommon for neighbouring services to assist each other to ensure the safety of our respective communities," he said.

"The northern NSW community continues to support their community helicopter and times like this highlight just how important helicopter emergency services are to our communities."