Happy 35th birthday to our Westpac rescue chopper

Jazz Rain, 9, of Woodburn at the ceremony held at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter helibase with sponsors, staff, VIPs and volunteers to commemorate the milestone of 35 years of the service.
Jazz Rain, 9, of Woodburn at the ceremony held at the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter helibase with sponsors, staff, VIPs and volunteers to commemorate the milestone of 35 years of the service. Marc Stapelberg

PAST and present volunteers, staff, supporters and sponsors gathered at the Lismore helibase yesterday to celebrate 35 years of the Westpac Helicopter.

To date, the Westpac Helicopter has completed over 9000 jobs, which has made an incredible impact on live-saving procedures and outcomes.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter CEO, Richard Jones OAM said it was a wonderful day to pay tribute to all the people who worked so tirelessly to make the service what it is today.

"It has been a remarkable effort from a lot of people, the fruits of their labour over the years is what we are seeing here today," Mr Jones said.

"To be able to show them what this place has become, with a lot of hard work from a lot of people, I think we are sitting in a world class facility now and I don't think the people of the region deserve anything less."


The man who led the charge to acquire this particular service in Northern NSW, Elton Cummings, attended the birthday celebrations and said he was elated to see where it was now.

"I'm very proud that we gave it a good foundation to get it to where it is today," Mr Cummings said.

"I'm jealous because they've got everything we never had and sad because had I maybe got bigger aircraft, quicker and faster we might have been able to save more lives."

Mr Cummings said it was back in 1976, after an incident on a North Coast beach where a man lost his life, he thought there were better ways to be treating patients.

"A gentleman named Mr Folks lost his life in '76 and from that day on I thought we could do rescues better," Mr Cummings said.

In its establishment years, Mr Cummings said all they had on board was an oxy-viva, a first aid kit, static rope and whatever the doctor could fit in his medical box.

"Compared to now, it is a theatre, this is as good as a doctor's hospital theatre," Mr Cummings said.

Three volunteers were recognised for their dedication to the Lismore Helibase on the day with awards and a garden memorial.

Well-known Lismore man Ken Jolley was named the first patron of the Northern Rivers service.

Mr Jones described Mr Jolley as a institution and said it was thanks to volunteers like him that the service had survived and progressed.

Mr Jolley said he was emotional and flattered to have received this award.

"It plays a big part in my life and it is a role I really do enjoy doing," Mr Jolley said.

Since day one twin sisters Mary and Emily Betteridge have played a major role in establishing and making the Westpac Helicopter what it is today.

Even over 30 years later and Mary still refers to the helicopter as her baby.

"People use to say your mad and I'd say no we're not, your mad for not helping us," Ms Betteridge said.

In recognition of their amazing work Mr Jones announced they will be creating a memorial garden at the base, which "is a fitting tribute to the to them because they are real green thumbs".

All of the team at the helicopter base, past and present, expressed how grateful they were to the local community's support.

"Without the community support with the helicopter over the last 35 years we would not have been able to continue," Mr Cummings said.

"I will never be able to repay that, because they just kept giving for us to be able to fly."

Topics:  celebrate northern rivers emergency services westpac helicopter westpac lifesaver rescue helicopter

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