EXCLUSIVE: Rescue chopper wings clipped

A MEDICAL emergency in a remote part of Tasmania after 6pm could result in a helicopter from Victoria, rather than Tasmania, being tasked for a stretcher retrieval.

During a routine review the Tasmanian Emergency Helicopter Service identified its stretchers do not meet current standards.

Rescues after 6pm of people suspected of spinal injuries or who have significant trauma that prevents them from being harnessed and winched in a seated position, will have to wait for a helicopter from Victoria.

This means search and rescue crews will be winched onto location to attend to the patient and wait three to five hours or possibly overnight until the interstate helicopter arrives.

Ambulance Tasmania Acting Chief Executive Jordan Emery said it had implemented “temporary contingency arrangements for search and rescue and ambulance winching operations to ensure the highest safety standards while a suitable device is sourced”.

“During this time stretcher winching operations will continue to use the Ambulance Tasmania Bell 412 helicopter,” he said. “An Air Ambulance Victoria helicopter will also be on standby if Ambulance Tasmania’s Bell 412 helicopter is unavailable when stretcher winching is required.”

While the Bell 412, on loan short-term as part of the national Covid response, has a compliant stretcher system, it is only crewed between 8am and 6pm. The two Westpac-branded BK117s, which are available 24/7 for aeromedical retrievals, will not be able to use their stretchers.

While not a common scenario, walkers, mountain bikers, four-wheel drivers and farmers are among the injured who have required the stretcher in the past.

Much of the remote Central Highlands, West Coast, and coastal dune areas can only be accessed by the search and rescue helicopters.

Mr Jordan said that the search and rescue service has continued to operate uninterrupted thanks to the rapid implementation of contingency measures.

“An alternative stretcher system is currently being suitability tested,” he said.