Ambulance choppers shut down in searing heat
THE state's air ambulance service is under fire over safety fears that two of its new helicopters can lose their avionics while flying in hot conditions.
A report by the Pentagon in the US found that the military version of the EC145 helicopter, due here later this year, has a "30-minute operating time and will shut down" if temperatures exceed safe operating ranges.
It is prone to overheating when not equipped with airconditioning, such as those helicopters to be used in NSW.
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Minutes from a January 23 ambulance occupational health and safety meeting show that not only did the Government opt not to have rescue helicopters with airconditioning but that retro-fitting them was not an option because of "a lack of funding".
The Government has been criticised for dumping the community-based helicopter rescue services to go with the Canadian-based CHC company.
It has been previously revealed that crews had been collapsing with heat exhaustion as non-airconditioned cabins reach 50C, while one of the aircraft had a window fall out during a flight.
Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government was trying to do "a rescue service on the cheap". "It is breathtaking that a Government would subject its citizens to this kind of risk," Ms Skinner said.
"It has been known since 2007 that after 30 minutes of hot conditions this helicopter can shut down during flight.
"Now they have to retro-fit airconditioning - if they can actually do that - which will cost millions and put the helicopters out of service."
Health Minister John Della Bosca said it was "not appropriate" to judge the helicopters on the US report.
"Helicopters used by the US military are required to perform in battle for many hours at a time under extreme conditions, including deserts, where temperatures are very high," he said.
"Our new choppers will not be subjected to such extremes."
Mr Della Bosca conceded there were welfare issues for crews using helicopters without air-conditioning.