More than a decade after the service began, the RAC Rescue helicopter has gone from strength to strength, reports Virginia Millen.

11 September 2014

More than a decade after the service began, the RAC Rescue helicopter has gone from strength to strength, reports Virginia Millen.

The RAC Rescue helicopter is Western Australia’s only dedicated 24-hour air ambulance helicopter delivering vital search and rescue and critical care medical services 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Managed by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services and funded by the state government, with sponsorship from the RAC, the helicopter and its crew have saved hundreds of lives during its 10  years of service.

Since its inception, the RAC Rescue helicopter team has included the helicopter and flight crews supplied by contractor CHC Helicopters, with aviation-trained critical care paramedics seconded from St John Ambulance. Base manager and pilot Andy Greenall has worked for the service since it began.

“More than 10 years ago, the Western Australian Government identified a need for a dedicated emergency rescue helicopter service. Prior to that, there was a service of sorts, but not one dedicated as a rescue and air ambulance helicopter,” says Mr Greenall.
With an operating range of 200 kilometres from Perth, the service covers 90 per cent of WA’s population and can be airborne within 15 minutes of receiving an incident call. In exceptional circumstances it may even operate beyond that 200-kilometre range.

Mr Greenall says the biggest change to the way the helicopter has been used during its 10 years of service is the frequency with which it is dispatched. In its first year of service it undertook just 164 missions.

Since December 2003 it has undertaken more than 3700 missions. Last year saw the highest number of missions ever recorded in a single year, with the helicopter undertaking 510 missions, the first time in the service’s history that more  than 500 missions were flown in a year.

Based at Jandakot airport, on the southern side of Perth, the service undertakes three types of missions:

  • Primary missions involve flying critical-care specialists straight to the scene of an incident, including car and motorcycle crashes, and then transporting the injured directly to hospital;
  • The helicopter’s secondary role is to provide essential hospital transfers; and
  • Its search and rescue role can include searching for missing people, maritime operations in support of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, or attending cliffš or sea rescues.
The challenges

Mr Greenall says some of the most challenging missions are the ones where the weather is inclement or night is falling.

“Moving platforms, such as boats, are always fairly hard work, especially if the conditions aren’t good, if there’s poor weather or it’s getting close to dark,” he says.

“Going out and trying to find lone walkers is another challenge,” he says. On one mission, Mr Greenall, the pilot and his crew, an air-crewman and a St John Ambulance critical care paramedic, who is also trained as rescue crewman, had to lower a winch in the dark to rescue a walker, who was suffšering from exposure and heart problems.

“It was a good all-round crew operation because it involved all of us in dišfferent aspects,” he says.

RAC Sponsorship Manager Carina Lauder says the RAC is committed to ensuring the emergency rescue helicopter service will continue its vital role in the West Australian community.

“The service is a prime example of our commitment to assisting people in times of need,” she says.

“RAC Rescue is at the core of what the RAC stands for in terms of helping West Australians.”