The Unsung Heroes of Summer

Summertime is synonymous with fun. Days are longer, temperatures are higher, and the beach is calling.

We all have little helpers that keep us going while we’re letting our hair down: the SPF 30+ sunblock that keeps your skin from turning pink in the sun, the sunglasses that hide your hangover, the shorts that become your uniform on the hottest days.

Then there are people like Gillian Howard. She’s a volunteer with the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service, and she literally saves lives in her spare time. Talk about an unsung hero.

Gillian works as a criminal lawyer (making any excuses we have about ‘not having time to volunteer’ a little hard to believe). She became a rescue crew member after volunteering with her local surf life saving club in her teens. She says the challenge was part of what appealed her.

“To learn new skills and meet new people – and obviously being involved in helicopters also attracted me!

“Being involved in the Westpac Lifesaver Helicopter Rescue Service is really meaningful to me. It’s a position where I’m able to give back to the community and also I work with some really fantastic people.”

The role also comes with some nail-biting moments, like when a family fishing trip goes wrong. One such moment happened when Mark Anning and his two boys got into trouble when their boat hit a log and overturned.

“We were doing a routine patrol at the time,” Gillian recalls. She says Mark had managed to get his boys out from under the boat and activated a distress beacon, which alerted the crew. “I was really fortunate because the dad had managed to keep both his boys quite relaxed, they were quite calm given the circumstances.”

air rescue

Mark and his sons got into trouble when their boat hit a log. Image courtesy of Air Rescue/Channel 7.

The rescue is featured in Air Rescue, a Channel 7 TV show that follows the work of the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service crews as they help to keep Australians safe over the summer and throughout the year.

The service has performed more than 80,000 missions nationally over the past four decades. No one has ever had to pay to be rescued.

That said, if you’d like to avoid the drama of having to be rescued by helicopter, there are some simple things you can do to stay safe on (or in) the water. Gillian says if you’re boating, ensure you have your safety essentials like your floatation vest and an EPIRB. Let someone who is not going out with you know where you’re going and when they can expect you to return, so they can raise the alarm if necessary.

If you’re out swimming, Gillian advises you stay between the flags – while if you’re surfing, it’s best to steer clear of the flagged areas. Be aware of the conditions and mindful of your abilities. And never get in the water while you’re intoxicated.

Still, it’s good to know people like Gillian are patrolling the water from the sky to keep us all safe.

Tune into Air Rescue on Channel 7 at 8pm (AEDT) on Tuesday, 12 December to watch Gillian’s rescue of Mark Anning and his family.

Feature image: Gillian Howard, courtesy of Air Rescue/Channel 7.