The Westpac Rescue Helicopter Rescue is called upon to help in a number of emergency situations.
These include remote area rescue (which may incorporate cliff or high-angle rescue), motor vehicle accidents or drivers in distress, medical patient retrieval and neonatal emergency transport, lost or missing bushwalkers or response to distress beacons on boats known as EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).
There are several ways the Westpac Rescue Helicopter can be called into action. If you are injured or in danger you can call 000 or 131 444 if it is a non-critical emergency. Your call will be relayed through either Tasmania Police or Ambulance Tasmania who will determine if the helicopter is needed. Emergency services personnel will need the following information:
- The exact details of the incident;
- Where has the incident occurred;
- How many people are involved;
- Weather conditions at the location.
If you are in a life-threatening situation on a boat but you can’t raise the police through your mobile phone or your craft’s radio, you should activate your EPIRB. This signal is encrypted with a GPS coordinate and is relayed to Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra - staff will intercept the distress call and immediately contact Tasmania Police.
If you have registered your EPIRB, emergency authorities will call your listed emergency contact to check if you are in fact lost and out of phone or radio contact.
Based on all this information, emergency service personnel will then make a call to activate the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. If the mission gets the green light, a Tasmania Police air crew member will notify the on-call pilot and, if required, the Ambulance Tasmania paramedic to make their way to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter base.
Then, once all the relevant information about the mission has been received, the pilot can begin to prepare for the mission and begin the flight plan. This is quite an in-depth process, and includes:
- A navigation plan;
- A weather assessment;
- A calculation of remaining daylight hours;
- The need for night vision equipment, FLIR and NightSun Search Light;
- Helicopter fuel requirements;
- The helicopter’s configuration and equipment needed, ie: life raft, stretcher, drysuits for water rescue;
- Notifying air traffic control and obtaining priority clearance for an emergency;
- The fitting of external fuel tanks if required - the helicopter can take up to 3.35 tonnes which includes up to 720kg of fuel.
The rescue mission is almost ready to launch after this checklist is completed and, once a pre-flight briefing is finished, the crew will get airborne.
Once in the air, the crew will get constant updates about the situation over police radio or satellite phone.