Times spent flying in exotic jungle locations throughout Africa, Papua New Guinea and the Middle East were exciting and ‘a bit wild’ but Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service Training and Checking Pilot Richard Nest recognised there was a richer reward beckoning him in which to apply his extensive flying skills.
On the eve of his retirement, he acknowledges his time in aeromedical rescue was the highlight of his flying career.
Richard’s role as rescue service pilot brought him to the Narrabri and Wee Waa districts many times throughout his career.
“I’d spent 10 years flying as a Navy helicopter pilot before I decided to find some more adventures by working overseas for four years in the Middle East, Africa and Papua New Guinea,” said Richard.
“Although the bush flying in some of these exotic places was a load of fun, I had an urge to utilise my flying skills in organisations wanting to help the community, rather than big companies wanting to just make a profit,’
“My first opportunity in the medical and rescue helicopter field came in April 1997 when one of my employer’s helicopters and I were cross-hired to the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service.
“I spent an exciting six weeks with the Newcastle crews, including some who I have worked with in recent years, such as Graham Nickisson, Peter Cook, Ian Osborne and Rob Jenkins.
“I will never forget those early jobs, the sense of camaraderie with the other crew and paramedics, the apprehension of the midnight phone call, and the dedication of the support staff and fundraisers to the cause of a community helicopter,” Richard said.
“In particular I recall a challenging job with Ossie (Ian Osborne), one of our long-term pilots, where we were doing a low-level night search for a supposed crashed balloon.
“Flying low level at night over water was something I was comfortable with from my Navy days but doing it in amongst the hills with a searchlight was a new experience. Luckily these types of jobs got much easier and safer for us after we eventually got night vision goggles about ten years later.”
After that first exposure to the community rescue service, Richard was determined to get into this type of organisation permanently.
“So in 2012, after 15 years of learning the ropes of doing medical and rescue helicopter work for other community organisations in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory I finally got back to my roots with the Service in Newcastle.
“This service always had a reputation as an industry leader in those days, with early introductions of all-weather capability, night vision goggles, simulator training for pilot and air crew officers and a drive for improvement all marked the service as being an employer of choice.
“I was thrown in the deep end from the start.
“In my first week I went to a serious car accident in a rural area near my home, and was shocked to find the patient was the baby-sitter for my young daughter.
“Seeing her and trying to reassure her distraught mother at the scene was a difficult task but my focus needed to remain on getting her quickly and safely to hospital and fortunately, she has now made a good recovery.”
The often confronting nature of the role however was made easier by the close knit team of Richard’s colleagues on the aircraft and on the ground. “As with all of these jobs, the care and professionalism shown by the medical crews and our air crew officers always made things much easier. It is the whole crew supporting each other and knowing that we are providing the best in medical care which makes the role all the more rewarding,” he said.
Even when faced with the toughest of jobs, Richard still found time to appreciate the opportunity he had been given as a pilot.
“Who can complain about flying along the world’s best beaches on a sunny day, rescuing adventurers from spectacular gorges, plucking people from the ocean or sick holiday-makers off cruise ships.
“And nothing beats looking through night vision goggles, on an inland night, at a star-spangled sky and shooting stars, where there are a hundred times more stars visible than with the naked eye!”
In recent years, Richard Nest progressed into a training role and was integral in introducing the new Agusta Westland AW139 helicopters into service.
“In 23 years flying medical and rescue helicopters I’ve realised what a great team we have, from the fantastic engineers keeping our aircraft in exceptional condition, the doctors bringing their magic to the patients, the air crew officers guiding and supporting me and the paramedics keeping things calm and controlled at the accident sites.
“But perhaps more importantly, my choice of working for a community helicopter service has only been possible due to the efforts of our fundraising and marketing teams, the numerous volunteers around our regions, and the tens of thousands who donate their precious earnings allowing us to not just do our job, but to always strive for doing it in ever better and safer ways”, Richard said.
Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service Operations Manager Robert Jenkins and chief executive Richard Jones said ‘Nesty’ will be missed by all and acknowledge his valuable contribution during his service.
“From his time flying missions, to his vital role in introducing the new AW139s into service and training and developing the skills of our next generation of pilots and aircrew, Nesty has been a great asset to our operations capability,” Mr Jenkins said.
‘‘Nesty’ can leave the Service knowing that he has shaped a professional and dedicated team of pilots and crew to follow in his footsteps. He has been a respected figurehead within the operations team and I’d like to thank him for his service and wish him the best in his retirement, knowing full well that when he sees us fly overhead, his hands will twitch eager to reach for the controls again,” Mr Jones said.To order photos from this page click here