THE Westapac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter taking off from the Lismore base.
THE Westapac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter taking off from the Lismore base.

Rescue helicopter waits for bats

LATE-night flying fox activity grounded the Westpac rescue helicopter mid-emergency at its Butler Street reserve landing site in Byron Bay on New Year’s Day.

The crew had been deployed for the emergency transfer of a car crash victim to the Gold Coast Hospital, but was left stranded at the reserve until dawn.

Pilot Tom Hulse said there had been no flying fox activity when the helicopter flew in at 2am.

“We landed and shut down without any problems, but the bats kept streaming out and building up over the hour we were waiting for our doctor and paramedic to prepare the patient for transport,” he said.

“They were so dense by the time we were ready for take off that we couldn’t guarantee the safety of the passengers or the aircraft, so we had no choice but to cancel the mission.”

The Westpac helicopter’s retrieval team ended up escorting the patient, who was in a critical condition, to the Gold Coast Hospital by ambulance while the pilot and crew spent New Year’s Day watching the sun rise over Byron.

Chief pilot Lynton Beggs said it was a new problem they hadn’t experienced at the Butler Street Reserve landing site before.

“Apparently there’s a colony nearby and the landing stirred them up. The bats took to the sky and didn’t settle down. Striking bats with the main rotor can cause serious problems, so we will always err on the side of safety. We are very conscious of them around dawn and dusk.

“There are other places in Byron we could land, so we’ll have to talk to council about that.

“Meanwhile we’ve logged a warning with the Helipad Register about the problem.

Mark Richardson, a tour guide with Byron Bay Wildlife Tours, said there was one major flying fox colony at the Butler Street Reserve.

“It was probably all the mature babies at this time of year that can fly but are still dependent on their mothers and are too young to fly off to feed at night,” he said.

“There could be 5000 to 10,000 of them there, and the chopper probably just stirred them up.”

Mr Beggs said there had been several incidents with flying foxes over the nine years he had been flying with the Westpac rescue helicopter.

One incident two years ago caused considerable damage to the nose cone.

“The guys were climbing from the base and only doing 40 or 50 knots (90km/h) when it hit the nose,” Mr Beggs said.

“They didn’t realise there was a problem, but on landing in Ballina found it had penetrated the nose cone and done extensive damage.”



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