Surf Lifesaving – Aerial Style

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done something it never loses it’s appeal.  Flying in a helicopter is one of those things for me.  Sure, they have the aerodynamic prowess of Barry White being launched from a canon, but hey. I’m game. Particularly when the pilot’s name is Peter Bird.  I kid you not.  Peter is the Chief Pilot of the Surf Lifesaving Helicopter and has over 40 years experience flying helicopters.  Also, he’s one of the most calm and clear thinking pilots I’ve ever flown with.

Shot from inside helicopter, looking out at the Gold Coast

Chief Pilot of Surf Lifesaving Rescue Helicopter, Peter Bird

The list of pilots I trust is rapidly diminishing one, given the number of crazy stuff I’ve had a front row seat to.

…I don’t think we’re going to clear those trees. You’re going to give it a shot anyway? Oh look we clipped the trees. Say again? We almost died?  Glad you told me because I WOULD HAVE MISSED THAT.

But, having flown with Peter recently he is now firmly atop my list of ‘People Jen Trusts to Hurtle Her at High Speed Through Mid Air’.

It’s short list.

As I expected they’re a tight knit group at the hangar.  Most of the crew are volunteers who’ve been Surf Lifesavers for over 10 years and have worked their way through the ranks to become crew aboard the rescue helicopter.  They all have full time jobs, families and lives.  Yet they all come and volunteer their time to be part of this. And I can see why. It’s cool.  Really, really cool.

And not in an ‘I’m s%^t hot’ kind of way. There’s not much room for egos here. As I was shooting the crew individually at various stages they were all getting mercilessly (and hilariously) ripped to shreds by their colleagues.  You can’t be a big shot around here for too long. You wouldn’t fit in.

The day I spent with them was pretty calm.  We took a mid-morning flight tracking from the Southern Gold Coast all the way up to North Stradbroke, and back again. We had two missions: general aerial support to the beach lifesaving rescue crews, and the continuing search for a fisherman who had been reported missing three days prior.

I’m a photographer, so I like to pat myself on the back and think I’m highly visually attuned.  I tell you though, I’ve got nothing on these guys.  The phrase needle in a haystack was, I’m sure, invented to describe the talents of helicopter search and rescue crews.  The stuff they could spot from hundreds of feet away was mind-blowing.

When I was young I remember floating in the ocean and thinking I’m really small and the ocean is really big.  But, after flying with this crew I tell you I’d feel as large as the ocean itself if I was ever lost in it because I have complete confidence they’d find me.