Recently I had the opportunity to visit the Gold Coast base of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter service and meet some of the wonderful crew members there. Over South-East Queensland, home of some of Australia's best beaches, attracting millions of locals and tourists each year, the rescue helicopter service has been the eye in the sky for 41 years. My visit started with a guided tour of the base at Carrara, and I then joined the crew on a regular patrol flight over Gold Coast beaches on a typical Queensland sunny autumn day. The tour and flight were certainly great experiences. It was great to see firsthand the wonderful, very important work that this service does.
Since the service started in 1976, the Life Saver Rescue Helicopter has conducted more than 10,000 missions along the Queensland coastline, and over 850 lives have been saved. Over that time the crew of the Westpac rescue chopper have been recognised as being among the best in the world at what they do. But it is not just pulling people from the rough surf. The life saver chopper has been involved in countless searches for missing boats at sea and bushwalkers lost in the hinterland trails. They have winched people from sinking yachts in dangerous weather and plucked injured hikers off mountain tops.
Not only does it take a high level of skill to be a member of the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter crew; it takes courage, determination and commitment to the job. Each rescue mission carries a degree of risk for crew members that is part and parcel of their job, but they put that aside to help people in danger. Today I would like to acknowledge their bravery, which epitomises the Australian spirit and has saved so many lives.
As well as the Gold Coast base at Carrara, another Westpac life saver helicopter operates from Caloundra. Together they patrol the majority of the coast, from Rainbow Beach to Rainbow Bay. The bases consist of eight pilots, 14 aircrew, 22 rescue crew, four full-time crew and 26 volunteer surf lifesavers.
Running a helicopter rescue service is expensive. While Westpac bank provides a significant amount of funding to keep this service operating, members of the community also contribute through annual fundraisers. From the time the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter flew its first rescue, not one person who has been rescued has ever been charged.
I would like to thank all of the crew, who made me feel welcome during my visit and took me through the important day-to-day operations of the rescue helicopter, and to say to them: my community in the electorate of McPherson feels that little bit safer knowing we have people such as you looking after us. I encourage everyone in the community to support this wonderful service.