Rainbow's surf now a lot safer

Westpac regional general manager Jason New welcomes chief pilot Peter Bird who will be patrolling Sunshine Coast beaches in the Westpac chopper.
Westpac regional general manager Jason New welcomes chief pilot Peter Bird who will be patrolling Sunshine Coast beaches in the Westpac chopper. Barry Leddicoat

RAINBOW Beach Surf Life Saving Club captain Shane Handy has welcomed the news of a new Surf Life Saving Queensland helicopter service on the Cooloola and Sunshine Coast.

He said the new service would improve safety for swimmers on the Cooloola Coast particularly in remote areas like Double Island and Inskip Points.

The new service will be based in Caloundra, but will patrol the entire coastline from Caloundra to Rainbow Beach.

Mr Handy said the Rainbow Beach Surf Club would be able to call on the chopper in emergency situations.

“Sometimes ambulances get caught in Tin Can Bay and have to come from Gympie, the helicopter will allow us to respond more quickly,” Mr Handy said.

“It is good news for the Cooloola Coast especially for places like Inskip and Double Island Points,” he said.

Almost a decade ago, the Sunshine and Cooloola Coast lost the designated Surf Life Saving Queensland helicopter because we were “ahead of our time”.

Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) has announced a new helicopter service for the Coast after Westpac designated more funds to the lifesaving group.

And with our climbing tourist numbers and population, an eye in the sky is exactly what we need.

When asked what it meant for our beach-goers on the Coast, Lifesaving Services manager George Hill didn’t water down its importance.

“It means a hell of a lot for public safety,” he said. “And it’s a great morale boost for our lifesavers, too.”

Mr Hill said the chopper would fly at least 250 hours a year, on weekends, public holidays and during school holidays and its roving eye would cover waterways from Bribie Island to Rainbow Beach.

“The ultimate service is the red and yellow flags but people go into areas they shouldn’t,” he said.

“This is an eye in the sky that looks at the big picture,” he said.

“Its role is surveillance, then rescue and it can warn of hazards, dangers, even dangerous marine life.

“When our previous lifesaving chopper was withdrawn about seven years ago, SLSQ used that saving to build up our rescue ability by funding jet ski patrols and improved equipment,” Mr Hill said.

“Now our swimmers and surfers will have a more comprehensive coverage.

“It’s been a journey for me. It was a very sad day when we lost our helicopter.”

Westpac’s Sunshine Coast regional manager Jason New said the bank’s investment in SLSQ was about “supporting locals and other visitors that come into the area”.

“It’s great to have the service back,” he said.

“We’re proud to stand by surf lifesavers here on the Coast.”

The helicopter can also be assigned to help out at other emergencies if requested.

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