Coffs chopper is ready to fly

By CRAIG McTEAR "WE'RE ready to go now!"

Those magic words, from Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter chief, Perry Wells, are the ones we've all been waiting to hear.

It means all is in readiness for Coffs Harbour to have its own rescue helicopter base at the airport.

All that's needed now is the thumbs up from NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher, who is expected to agree to a 2008 liftoff.

Initially, the service would operate 10 hours a day, seven days a week, to be reviewed in 2010, and the roster would include two pilots, two crew and eight volunteer rescue crew.

"We've worked towards this for many, many years through the support of the North Coast community. Now, we're in a position where it can move forward," Mr Wells said in Coffs Harbour yesterday.

"If we succeed in getting the green light, we could do it tomorrow. We've also got to undertake training of personnel down here."

The Lismore-based rescue service will need to buy a hangar at Coffs airport to house the helicopter, crew quarters and administration office, and Coffs Harbour City Council says it will do all it can to make this happen.

Council general manager, Steve Sawtell, said the base 'needs to be here now'.

"We're extremely keen to assist Westpac Life Saver in this, and we'll liaise with NSW Health, the Ambulance Service and other government departments to make it happen," Mr Sawtell said.

"The council has for some years been in discussion with the service, and now the green light for a Coffs Harbour helicopter is imminent. More than ever, the service needs the continuing support of the community for this initiative."

The helicopter service already has an office at Coffs Harbour airport, and recently appointed two new full-time staff -- a fundraising officer and a community relations officer.

The service -- which operates from Tweed Heads in the north to Macksville in the south and west to Tenterfield and Glen Innes -- will next week take delivery of a third Dauphin helicopter, at a cost of $5.5 million. The fit out will involve an additional $500,000.

It is a state-of-the-art aircraft which can swiftly reach accident scenes, reduce hospital transfer times and fly further out to sea for search and rescue missions. It will be ready for action by mid-July.

Two helicopters will remain at Lismore HQ, while the other will be based in Coffs Harbour.

Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter executives and the Health Department are negotiating the renewal of the service's funding and performance agreement, which should be finalised by June.

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