Throwback: Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service

Often referred to ‘as the eyes in the sky’ the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service has been keeping beachgoers safe for more than 40 years.

Most can recall seeing the red and yellow helicopter fly over them while enjoying a swim at a South East Queensland beach. For some grateful people, it has been a beacon of hope in a time of distress.

The service officially commenced on December 5, 1976 on the Gold Coast with 16 crewpersons.

Danny Hoyland OAM was one of the original crew members and was instrumental in bringing this critical service to the Sunshine State.

“We flew out of Kurrawa, off a little mound about 400 metres south of the surf club,” Danny Hoyland OAM explained.

It was only a small set up – their base was literally their car.

“All our gear was in a 4WD. We would drive down and set up under the trees, pull out the picnic table and chairs and set up for the day.”

Initially, the service operated on weekends and public holidays throughout the patrol season.

“The pilot and crew would stay at Coolangatta Surf Lifesaving Club over the weekend.”

Kurrawa Pad

In the first year it performed four rescues and conducted 33 other missions, with almost 100 hours of flying time, proving the worth of the service.

From humble beginnings, the service has grown into a well-known and respected rescue service.

Heli in water rescue

Currently Lifesaver 46 is based on the Sunshine Coast and Lifesaver 45 on the Gold Coast.

Both services operate year-round conducting daily surveillance flights and responding to various incidents.

“Although the aircraft and equipment used to perform rescues has developed over the years, the principle to save lives has remained,” Chief Pilot Paul Gibson said.

“Our team of dedicated pilots, crew and volunteer surf lifesavers are highly trained to perform rescues and respond to a range of incidents.”

Lifesaver 45

The service has performed in excess of 10,000 missions and is credited with saving the lives of more than 850 people.


1930 – Surf lifesaving used aircraft for shark spotting and surveillance.

1965-67 – Surfer’s Paradise Progress Association financed a Bell 47 Helicopter for Christmas Holiday period patrols on the Gold Coast. It was piloted by Army pilots (on leave) and crewed by selected surf lifesavers.

1976 – A Wales Helicopter Surf Rescue Service was formed on the Gold Coast. Initially performing patrols on weekends and public holidays throughout the surf season.

1977 – On 30 January, the service performed their first surf rescue. A swimmer caught in a strong rip approximately 300 metres off Kurrawa Beach was saved by crewman Brian Clem.

1979 – Wales Helicopter Surf Rescue Service was established on the Sunshine Coast. This was and still is a full-time operation, available 24 hours a day, 7 day a week.

1981 – A full time operation commenced on the Gold Coast, which continues today.

1982 – The Bank of New South Wales changed its name to Westpac Banking Corporation, therefore seeing the service renamed to be the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service.

1982 – A full time operation commenced on the Gold Coast.

1982 – Land acquired at Carrara, Gold Coast for helicopter hanger.

2016 – The service celebrated its 40-year anniversary.

Westpac continues to remain the proud principal partner.

IOR ensures the helicopters remain fuelled and ready to take to the sky, supplying 500 kilolitres of fuel yearly.

Article by Chloe Maxwell

Recent Posts