Waratah Coal may bring a third emergency rescue chopper online to service the Galilee Basin as it is opened up as a major mining province.
Waratah Coal may bring a third emergency rescue chopper online to service the Galilee Basin as it is opened up as a major mining province.

Palmer backs medi-vac Chopper response 'vital'

BILLIONAIRE Clive Palmer has given his backing to an emergency medical response helicopter service based in Emerald.

Mr Palmer's Waratah Coal recommended an upgrade of emergency health services in Emerald as part of its environmental impact statement for the $8.3 billion China First thermal coal project.

The EIS acknowledged medicine's 'golden hour' - the 60 minutes that could save a life in rural and remote areas - as well as the potential for fatigue-related accidents from a drive-in, drive-out workforce and heavy vehicle movements.

It would be the third medical chopper service for Central Queensland, adding to the existing RACQ-sponsored operations based in Rockhampton and Mackay.

"Emergency health services for the Bowen Basin are provided from Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville," the EIS said. "The emergency response time will be significantly longer for incidents in the Galilee Basin.

"In addition to the expansion of emergency services in Alpha, consideration should be given to the upgrading of emergency health services in Emerald.

"To effectively serve the Galilee Basin, would require a helicopter, equipped for medical emergencies,

based permanently at Emerald."

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president, Emerald's Dr Ewen McPhee, welcomed Waratah's vision for strengthening emergency response services.

Dr McPhee said he encouraged the company to engage in close consultation with other Queensland Health and other emergency services providers.

"Rapid response saves lives, but the secondary services need to be available too," he said.

"While placing a full-time helicopter retrieval system in Emerald would be welcome, it would need to be considered within the framework of the capabilities of the Emerald Hospital to handle the increase in trauma presentations and RFDS fixed wing retrieval services to tertiary hospitals in Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane.

"Close consultation with Queensland Health would be essential to ensure the right mix of emergency medicine specialists and trauma consultants are involved in the design, and management, of such a trauma system."

The Queensland mining industry this week showed its gratitude to one of the two rescue choppers that service the Bowen Basin.

Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Stewart Bell presented a donation of more than $25,000 to the Mackay-based RACQ-CQ Rescue Helicopter Service.

This was in addition to $800,000-odd given by the industry through sponsorship, payroll contributions and in-kind donations each year.

General manager Phil Dowler said he would be happy to talk with Waratah Coal about servicing the Galilee Basin.

"A third (chopper) service would probably affect our fundraising and cost Waratah a lot of money," he said.

"Using existing companies would give more coverage and a better service for everyone in that area.

"At the moment, the RACQ CQ and RACQ Capricorn rescue services have agreements with the State Government.

"Another service would have to go through discussions with the government to get approvals to start with, which is not an easy area."

The Capricorn rescue service's Kay Becker said despite not knowing of Waratah's proposal, she hoped there were no plans to make it a community-based service competing for donations.

"If that were the case it would certainly make a big difference to everyone's bottom line, but if it is fully-funded by the company that makes a difference," she said.

"There is not rescue service there (in the Galilee) at the moment because there's no funding for it, and there would need to be a lot more services come into Emerald to make it viable and worthwhile."

Mr Dowler said the cost to fly the rescue helicopter for one hour was $6033, and donations from the mining industry kept the chopper in the air for about 134 hours a year.

"Almost 50% of total missions are to areas within the Bowen Basin and, with development under way in the Galilee Basin, we can expect to be a great deal busier."


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