The most important fundraising campaign in the history of Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was launched today.

Spiralling costs in the aviation industry means that in 2010, the service needs to raise $1 million more than it did last year.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter general manager Kris Beavis described the campaign as ‘critical’ and urged the community to not take the rescue helicopter for granted.

“We are facing unprecedented pressure to increase our income to continue to provide the services and support necessary to conduct our life-saving rescue missions,” Mr Beavis said.

“We need to raise an extra $1 million this year to keep our operations on track and continue the important business of saving lives.

“Our operating budget in 2010 is $6.5 million – almost double what it was just four years ago.

“Last year’s global financial crisis didn’t help. Our donations dropped by almost 12% as a result of that.

“In addition, our figures show that only 1.3 per cent of the community currently make a direct donation to Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter. We need to increase that figure to ensure the service continues in its current form.

“We have also been hit particularly hard by escalating costs within the aviation industry. Our maintenance costs have soared to $1.6 million this year; and, of course, the more we fly, the more maintenance our helicopters need.

“In addition, our fuel costs have doubled since 2006 to $381,000 per year, and we don’t charge for our service.

“Our pilots and crew flew a record 44 missions in January. With each mission costing around $8500, that’s almost $400,000 in mission costs for January alone.

“It’s important the community doesn’t take this service for granted. I urge them to get behind this appeal and make a donation.

“It’s the biggest appeal we’ve ever launched, and it’s critical to the successful, continued operations of Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter.”

A teenage patient who was winched to safety by the rescue helicopter in January has formed part of the radio and television campaign supporting the appeal.

On January 30 this year, 13-year-old Luke Bain was spending the day with friends at Whian Whian Falls. But the fun soon ended when Luke fell onto rocks, hitting his head and becoming unconscious.

Due to the terrain, Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter was the only way of getting Luke out in a hurry and over to hospital for emergency treatment.

Although Luke has no memory of the incident – or the helicopter flight – he has made a full recovery. He and his grateful mum Kay both star in a television ad currently appearing on TV.

Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter receives no direct government funding or grants. Instead, the serviced relies on the generosity of the community to keep flying.

Donations for Westpac Life Saver Rescue Helicopter’s appeal can be made at any Westpac Bank; at www.helirescue.com.au; or by calling 6627 4444.

PICTURE: Rescue helicopter pilot Marty Hanna (closest to camera) and veteran crewman Michael Kerry ready for take-off on a night mission (Photo by Adam Hourigan).