The Deputy Mayor of Tamworth Regional Council, Russell Webb, says a bushwalker rescue in the Guy Fawkes River National Park shows why it's important for winching to be restored to Tamworth's chopper.
On Sunday, the national search and rescue service had to put the Lismore Four chopper on stand-by for a patient with chest pains who may have needed to be winched out of gorge country near Ebor.
The drama started when the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Canberra-based Rescue Co-ordination Centre received an alert from a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) around 3:00pm.
AMSA responded, tasking the nearest aircraft to the scene, which was the Tamworth Three rescue helicopter, whose winching capabilities were removed by the O'Farrell government in July following a state-wide review of aero-medical retrieval services.
The Authority's Jo Meehan says neither AMSA nor the rescue helicopter knew if a winching operation would be required as a result of the medical emergency.
"We did task the closest helicopter [Tamworth Three] which, unfortunately, did not have winch capabilities so we were hoping they were able to land [and], in the event that they couldn't, we did have a winch-capable helicopter on stand-[Lismore Four] by a little bit further away," she said.
"So, we sent the first-available helicopter and, fortunately, they were able to get into the area and transfer the person to the hospital."
Jo Meehan says says AMSA was able to respond quickly because the Personal Locator Beacon was registered with the Authority.
"The group of bushwalkers did all the right things [because] they were carrying with them a Personal Locator Beacon which was also a registered PLB which meant we were able to get a little bit of information about what the group was doing and where they were," she said.
"That cuts down the response time for us and we were able to respond to the emergency within a couple of hours."
Tamworth's chopper was eventually able to land and evacuate the patient without the need for winching operations.
But Deputy Mayor Russell Webb says the next patient may not be so lucky.
"When Lismore's helicopter's waiting to do winching operations here because the one at Tamworth can't do them, they're leaving the Coast potentially unserviced," he said."Of course, we've got to keep in the back of our mind we're now entering the warmer parts of the year, there will be a lot more people out there bushwallking, there will be an extended period of holidays coming up shortly and this is the time we'd probably most need these services and they're not available to us."
Russell Webb says it was simply unacceptable that the Lismore Four helicopter was put on stand-by for the job when it was already busy saving lives elsewhere in the region.
"You'd feel so frustrated having the location of the patient, knowing they were suffering with a heart condition and not being able to help them and I think that would be a terrible dilemma for the pilot, the paramedics and the crew," he said.
"Of course, that's one side of it, the other side is they then have a second helicopter that they're trying to get to the patient that's being used at another accident scene and, I mean, this poor fellow down in the gorge, how would he feel?"