Twenty years after Gwenda Edmonds was flown from a car crash by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service – the gratitude is still as present as ever for the flight that may have saved her life.

The Gunnedah resident was driving with husband Kevin on the Grafton Road in the early 2000s when their lives were turned upside down.

“We were travelling home from the coast and our car lost control,” Gwenda recalled.

“We spun 360 and went off the road and down into a creek.”

Trapped in the car with head, chest and back injuries, it was only through the helicopter service that she was able to receive urgent medical care needed.

“I had to be flown by the helicopter to Armidale and eventually to Tamworth for treatment,” she said.

By sheer coincidence, also helping on scene was former Canberra Raider, NSW State of Origin and Australian rugby league footballer Laurie Daley.

The league star happened to be travelling by at the same time and was the only person at the location with an early model mobile phone.

“He had to go way up the paddock to use it,” Gwenda said.

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service – Gunnedah Support Group volunteers Chris Frend, Robin Capp, Gwenda Edmonds, Heather Stephens and Rozzie Torrens.

After her recovery from the crash, the experience spurred Gwenda to help form the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service – Gunnedah Support Group in 2001.

The group was not only another spoke in the fundraising wheel for the rescue helicopter, which is a free service – no one has ever had to pay to be rescued; it also provided an avenue of community support for those whose lives had been impacted.

Gwenda was the inaugural chairperson of the Gunnedah group – a role she fulfilled for the next three years. Also part of the first committee was Rhonda Smith (secretary), Pam Bradford (publicity), Wendy Foster, Judy Lenton, Rozzie Torrens and Lyn Haynes. In the early days, the treasurer was a staff member of the Westpac bank.

From humble beginnings and a handful of people, the Gunnedah support group now boasts a membership of about 15.

Members host annual fundraisers in Gunnedah including a bowls day, golf day, poultry auction and clay target shoot.

Such was the group’s initial success, one of its first Gunnedah bowls days in 2003 raised $18,000 for the helicopter service – no small change 20-plus years ago!

In its early years, the group was also a big part of on-farm clearance sales where volunteers sold cakes, slices, sandwiches and barbecue lunches to would-be bidders. The group has also benefited from show rodeos and rugby club auctions over the years.

Volunteers still offer refreshments at the Gunnedah Saleyards’ store sale and more recently, have been busy across town selling tickets for their ‘cost of living raffle’.

The service-wide raffles take in an area from the Hawkesbury River, north to the Queensland border and west to Wee Waa, Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Moree.

“People are very supportive of that raffle,” Gunnedah group member Robin Capp said.

“A highlight for me is how the town gets behind the helicopter … people are very generous and we’re very appreciative of that.”

Last year’s raffle featured generous prizes including a $3000 fuel voucher, $2000 grocery voucher and $1000 voucher to Harvey Norman.

As luck would have it, two Gunnedah entries were drawn for second and third prize. One of them was Bert Hewitt who volunteers collectively described as “one of the most generous and valued supporters” of the Gunnedah group.

A news report when the support group first started in Gunnedah in the early 2000s.

Looking ahead, Gunnedah support group members said more help is always welcome at their monthly meetings. Mrs Capp said the extra hands would be of invaluable assistance to further their aim of saving lives in the bush.

“The helicopter is able to help people in rural and remote areas and provide that quick medical care,” she said. “It is saving lives because of that speed of access to medical care.”

Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service New England North West volunteers coordinator Kim Newling thanked the group’s continued support which helps keep the helicopter in the sky and saving lives of loved ones.

“We are proud of the achievements of the Gunnedah group who have worked tirelessly raising funds over many years for the service’s activities in the New England North West in an effort to contribute to saving local lives,” Ms Newling said.

“The dedicated volunteers from the Gunnedah group have been able to rally the support of the community, through a variety of fundraising initiatives, to make a valuable contribution to the continued life-saving response in the region.”

Last year the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service celebrated its 50-year anniversary having started in 1973 with a $25,000 grant from the bank to help to fund its first Bell 47 helicopter.

To order photos from this page click here