Geraldton ‘likely best spot’ for emergency chopper

Headshot of Peter Sweeney
Peter SweeneyMidwest Times
The RAC rescue helicopter in action.
Camera IconThe RAC rescue helicopter in action. Credit: DFES

Emergency services in the Mid West want a rescue helicopter based in the region, saying Geraldton might be the best place.

And the Midwest Rescue Helicopter Project claims countless lives will be saved if the dream becomes a reality.

“Regional Lives Matter” is the line it is pushing — to politicians and the public — in its proposal to have 24/7 access to a chopper.

Marine Rescue Geraldton figurehead Ian Dempsey said the Mid West and the Goldfields were the only two regional areas in Australia with a population of more than 55,000 which were not covered by a dedicated rescue helicopter service.

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It would cost an estimated $6 million a year to keep a helicopter on 24/7 standby.

“But what is the cost of not having one,” Mr Dempsey said.

“It’s been proven (trauma) deaths decrease the quicker seriously injured people are reached and treated. Having a helicopter here will save lives.

“We have written to the Minister for Emergency Services (Fran Logan) and other politicians requesting a helicopter for the region. Petitions are being circulated to the public in shops and stores in Geraldton and the Mid West.”

There are two emergency helicopters based in Jandakot in Perth, and one in Bunbury.

“Helicopters from the city can only go as far as Jurien Bay and back. “Helicopters can do out-and-back trips of a little less than 500km before they have to refuel, which obviously takes time,” Mr Dempsey said.

“Time counts when it is a life- and-death situation. The time is now for an emergency helicopter to be based in the Mid West.” Mr Dempsey said Geraldton would be the most likely home for an around-the-clock helicopter service.

“Geraldton — with the airport, hospital and port — would probably be best spot for it, although having it at Kalbarri wouldn’t be out of the question, as it would have a greater reach north,” he said.

There are privately owned helicopters in the Pilbara and North West areas of WA, however, they are predominantly used in the offshore oil and gas and mining industries.

“It’s highly unlikely you could get these helicopters at the drop of a hat,” Mr Dempsey said. “And even if you did, most would require a refitting (internal).”

Growing tourism in the Mid West — especially at the Abrolhos islands, the Pink Lake area and Kalbarri — is increasing the need for quicker responses to emergency situations.

Another prominent Marine Rescue Geraldton figure said with tourism in the Mid West becoming more and more popular, the group saw the need for a helicopter.

“There are (many) serious road crashes and hospital transfers where a helicopter is needed. We will probably need a larger vessel for our operations as well,” Jamie Jones said.

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