Home > Who we are > History

History

The Community’s Own Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service proudly provides emergency aeromedical services 24-7 for the people of Northern NSW, including search, rescue and inter-hospital transfers.

We have operated the Hunter service since 1975, New England North West since 2000 and commenced operations from Lismore in April 2017. Prior to us commencing operations from our new Lismore Base, the Lismore Service was operated by the Northern Region SLSA Helicopter Rescue Service Pty Ltd (Northern SLSA). In order to tell the full history of the Westpac Rescue Helicopters in Northern NSW the below timeline uses an *asterisk to denote the milestones achieved by Northern SLSA prior to 2017.

Today four AW139 helicopters operate from three bases at Newcastle, Tamworth and Lismore, servicing 1.5 million people from the Hawkesbury River, north to the Queensland border and an experienced operational team are on call and ready to respond.

From flights for babies who are just moments old, through to people requiring specialist medical treatment or trauma assistance, search and rescues in the bush or out at sea and winch extractions from tough terrain. Each mission we fly is only made possible because of the generosity from our community.

 

 

1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000 | 2010 | 2020

70's

1975

Commenced operations as the Wales Rescue Helicopter in Newcastle, with an all-volunteer crew of local surf life savers flying a Bell 47 during summer weekends.

1978

Bell 206B Jetranger leased in an effort to provide greater rescue capabilities.

1975 Bell 47 mid mission
80's

1980’s

NSW Ambulance Paramedics and NSW Health Doctors began flying on board to assist with emergency response.

1981

As corporate and community support grew for the Service, additional funding allowed 24 hour a day, year round operations in the Hunter flying the Bell 206B Jetranger.

1982

*Surf Life Saving Australia commenced its 5th helicopter operation, at Ballina SLSC, with a Hillier UH-12E.

 

1982 Hillier UH-12E based, Ballina SLSC
80's

1982

Permanent base at District Park, Broadmeadow secured. Also during this year, major sponsor the Bank of New South Wales changed its name to Westpac Banking Corporation and as a result the helicopter changed from ‘Wales’ to ‘Westpac’.

1983

*SLSA Ballina operation relocated to Lismore and upgraded to a Bell 206B Jetranger on lease.

Bell-206-Jetranger-in-new-Westpac-livery1982 Bell 206 Jetranger in new Westpac livery
80's

1984

Hunter leases a Bell 206 Longranger. This aircraft is a stretch version of the Bell 206B Jetranger, later purchased in 1986.

1989

The ‘Angel One Appeal’ launched in the Hunter Region, community funds help purchase the first twin engine helicopter.

1984 NSW Ambulance Paramedics with the Bell 206 Longranger
90's

1990

*Both the Hunter and Lismore services upgrade their aircraft, to a twin engine SA 365C3 Dauphin and Bell 206 Longranger respectively.

1990

*The Lismore operation moved to the Brunswick Street base.

 

1990 Dauphine winch mission
90's

1991

*Lismore aircraft is upgraded to a twin engine SA 365C1 Dauphin.

1993

Hunter Dauphin is damaged beyond repair in a crash at Barrington Tops in February and replaced by a leased single engine Squirrel helicopter to keep the Service going.

1993

Leased a Bell 212 to trial the airframe for the future purchase of a Bell 412 which arrived later that year.

 

1993 Barrington Tops accident
90's

1994

Newcastle purchases Bell 206 Longranger as a backup for the primary Bell 412 aircraft.

1996

*Lismore purchases a second C1 model Dauphin to commence 24-7 operations.

 

1996 Ulmurra Public School Grafton Floods
00's

2000

The Service’s expansion into the North West took place in partnership with community leaders, the New England North West Service was launched on Friday 25 August, flying a Bell 407 from its base at Tamworth Airport.

2001

Newcastle purchases a Bell 407 identical to Tamworth to ensure redundancy.

2005

*Lismore replaces initial SA 365 C1 Dauphin with an SA365 N2 model.

Bell 207 NENW
00's

2007

The Service was hit by a second aircraft incident, with the New England North West Bell 407 crash landing near Warialda enroute to a motor vehicle accident. The aircraft was replaced with a twin-engine BK117.

2007

Newcastle acquires another BK 117, replacing all single engine aircraft.

2007

*Lismore replaces second twin engine SA 365 C1 Dauphin with a second SA 365 N2 model.

2007 BK 117's in Tamworth
10's

2010

Tamworth operations moved into a purpose built facility constructed at Tamworth Airport.

2011

Second Bell 412 EP put into operation at Newcastle.

2012

Newcastle BK 117 transferred to Tamworth base.

2011 Bell-412, Newcastle
10's

2012

NSW Minister for Health appointed Ernst and Young to carry out a review of the NSW aeromedical retrieval services, leading to aeromedical reform.

2014

After an extensive open tendering process the NSW Minister for Health announces WRHS as the provider of aeromedical services in Northern NSW, from bases in Newcastle, Tamworth and Lismore, under a new 10 year contract to commence in 2017.

2016

Four Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters arrive in Australia, with these aircraft arguably the aircraft of choice for aeromedical operations worldwide. The company also changed its name to Northern NSW Helicopter Rescue Service Limited to reflect its broader geographic area of operations.

2016 Old meets new
10's

2017

In the first half of 2017 the company expanded its services under the new aeromedical retrieval contract with NSW Ambulance covering Northern NSW from the Hawkesbury River in the south to the NSW – Queensland border.

2017

Two new purpose built bases constructed at Belmont and Lismore along with upgrades to the Tamworth base, ready for flying operations to commence under the new NSW Ambulance Contract in the Agusta Westland AW139s from March 2017. The exisiting Broadmeadow base becomes the base for Headquarters, Hunter Marketing and Deep Level Maintenance facility

2017 Northern NSW contract launch
20's

2020

Our Service was proud to stand alongside NSW Ambulance as it received the ‘Salute to Excellence Golden Hour Award’ by the Helicopter Association International (HAI) in Anaheim, USA, as recognition for the use of helicopters in the vital mission of air medical transport.

2020

Throughout the year a number of milestones were passed including the 10,000th mission for a Westpac Helicopter from Lismore; 20 years of Service from Tamworth and 45 years of service from Newcastle and the Hunter.

2020 Salute to Excellence Awards