ACT News


Paramedics drop into Lake Burley Griffin for specialist wet winch training

Canberrans have an opportunity this week to witness paramedics train for real life rescues by lowering themselves from a helicopter onto moving boats.

"Wet winching" is just one of many specialist skills the Snowy Hydro SouthCare helicopter organisation exercises within its huge jurisdiction.

Paramedics on the helicopter need to be prepared for emergencies in any terrain.

Chris Kimball, chief executive officer of the Snowy Hydro SouthCare Trust, said the region included some of the busiest holiday roads, alpine environments, hundreds of kilometres of coast line and huge swathes of bush.

Every six months, the rotating teams of paramedics who work on the helicopter undergo wet winch training on the surface of Lake Burley Griffin.

Paramedics work on the technical side of winching in and out of the water and onto a moving boat, so "they're comfortable in executing their skills in the pressure environment, where that all matters".


Perhaps the best example of the training in real-life action was during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race, Mr Kimball said.

It was just a few months after paramedics had completed their first ever wet winch training, in the months-old organisation, when the race turned deadly.

Huge waves, cyclonic winds and a mess of strong currents killed six sailors, forced the rescue of nine sailors and caused five yachts to sink.

It was the biggest ever maritime rescue in Australian waters, and the helicopter played a significant role, Mr Kimball said.

"They were skills [paramedics] had recently started to learn, on the quiet waters of Lake Burley Griffin.

"And then a few months later they're putting them into practice, in 20 metre seas off the coast in absolute situations of life or death."

During training, the paramedics also learn how to work with other agencies in challenging environments, in this instance the ACT water police.

"There's a lot of moving pieces in those emergency medical situations."

The training was also a chance to regather after the hectic holiday period.

Over December and January the helicopter was called to more than 70 missions, from cliff falls to motorbike accidents to critical patient transfers.

Mr Kimball invited the public to witness the training at Lake Burley Griffin, which continued from 9am on Wednesday and Friday this week.

The best spots to watch are Lennox Gardens and the Canberra Yacht Club.

Mr Kimball also invited the public to the organisation's base open day, from 10am Sunday, March 20.