Queensland Rescue Helicopter Services
  |  First Published: September 2007

Queensland Rescue Helicopter Services (QRHS) have called on the State's commercial and recreational anglers to commit to stronger financial support. The call has come due to thousands of hours spent annually rescuing or assisting fishermen along the east coast.

Central Queensand RACQ Capricornia Rescue Helicopter Service has provided continued assistance for numerous fishers in distress. CEO Kay Becker said the Central Queensland operation cost about $200,000 monthly, but receives little financial return from either the commercial or recreational sectors.

Ms Becker said following a rescue of a fisherman from a trawler or charter vessel, the helicopter service often asked for some small financial assistance for the effort. Ms Becker continued

"We are usually told by the vessel's operator that they are not making enough money to help us out with our costs, yet commercial and recreational fishing sectors rely on this service in their time of need.

"We do not expect that persons involved in the rescue pay full recovery costs, but we do urge people who use the service to donate as we too have to cover our costs."

Ms Becker has also called on charter boat operators to be "more mindful of the medical conditions of all passengers as it should not be taken for granted that an unwell person can be retrieved from the vessel under certain conditions".

The rescue helicopter has been required on occasions air-lift an angler off a charter vessel because of a suspected heart problem or other health condition, yet that condition existed before the person went to sea.

"Quite simply, that person should not have been allowed to go to sea in the first place," Ms Becker said.

Likewise, the service has also been called out in dangerous flying conditions to air-lift an unwell person from a fishing charter when an alternative was possible. The rescue and distance travelled to the rescue scene could have been made less dangerous if the skipper had taken the vessel to the mainland or nearby islands. This may mean others on board may not complete their organised fishing trip.

This situation is particularly hard on the RACQ Capricornia Helicopter Rescue Service as its coverage extends to Swains Reef, the outer edge of the Great Barrier Reef and about 140nm east of the service's Rockhampton base.

Due to the area having a high dominance of charter and fishing operations, rescue trips are quite common. However, the helicopters are limited to their flying range.

"Our limit is right on the 140nm plus we allow between 5-8minutes for an airlift, so a lot of planning is required to undertake these rescues," Ms Becker said.

In April 2001, the RACQ Capricornia rescue helicopter encountered problems at the Swains and crashed. Thankfully there was no loss of life but the chopper was lost.

Ms Becker said recreational anglers should pay more heed to the elements before heading out to sea and believes that every person who owns a sea-going vessel should also own an EPIRB.

The Canberra-based National Air-Sea Rescue headquarters informs the service if an EPIRB is activated within their area and the service calls on boaties to activate the EPIRB sooner than later.

Although Ms Becker would like to see more voluntary funding from the fishing sectors, she said the helicopter rescue service received good funding from the Government, community organisations and corporations ensuring the service's operations.

However, the demand on the service is growing and a third pilot was employed in the Central Queensland region last July. Finding suitable pilots for the service is another problem, there are few pilots who have the required 2000hr flying time plus 100hr night work. Many of the pilots who work in rescue helicopters have done their training with the armed forces where they have gained the required flying hours. ­ Greg Seierup

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