By Careflight Senior Media & Communications Executive Shan Veivers

CAREFLIGHT Group is best known for its iconic blue and yellow community helicopters delivering lifesaving care in Queensland and Northern New South Wales.

But CareFlight Group in Queensland has also delved into the corporate world, taking its benchmark air medical retrieval services and delivering lifesaving care to gas industry workers.

“The sole source contract mobilised for Curtis Island last year followed the successful critical care model CareFlight developed for the Surat basin Gas Industry three years ago,” CareFlight Group Queensland executive manager of operations Steve Nelson said.

The Curtis Island Rotary Wing Aero Medical Evacuation (CIRWAME) clients are Queensland Curtis Liquefied Natural Gas, Gladstone LNG and Australia Pacific LNG–the three separate liquefaction facilities converting coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas.

The stakes and standards are high.

“CareFlight is fully oil and gas industry compliant adhering to the exceptional safety and operational standards our partners demand,” Mr Nelson said.

“This includes winch and smooth water operation capabilities within the busy Gladstone Harbour.

“Our aero-medical crew is made up of two experienced pilots flying the Bell 412EP helicopter and a specialist doctor and paramedic on board the machine, which is fully outfitted for critical care needs.”

These high expectations are built on the safety and care of a group of workers operating in and around Curtis Island in the Gladstone region in geographic locations not readily accessible by medical ground crews.

At its peak, the workforce on Curtis Island numbered more than 10,000.

Based at the Gladstone Airport, the Bell 412 can be airborne for emergency day missions in less than 30 minutes, and under 60 minutes for night sorties.

Both this service and the service in the Surat basin became the first to use night vision goggles (NVGs) as a contractual standard for OGP operations in Australia.

Last year, CIRWAME f lew 54 missions, airlifting 48 patients and conducting a search and rescue operation for local police.

While most of these missions relate to the gas industry, seven were missions where CareFlight backed up fellow community helicopter service, Capricorn Rescue.

“For cases of urgent medical need and where we are in a position to be there faster, where the Capricorn Rescue Helicopter is not available or if it’s a mass casualty event, it’s important that we can offer that community support,” Mr Nelson said.

That also extends to the Gladstone Airport.

“In a non-remunerated agreement with the airport – if there’s a medical emergency we respond, and we have done so on a number of occasions.”

CareFlight is also contributing to the local economy, renting four homes for the fly-in, fly-out aircrews, purchasing Avgas and providing for the day-to-day needs of the crew.

Aviation and medicine are also benefiting from the contract.

“We have employed five additional pilots, two engineers, three paramedics and a local manager to service the needs of Curtis Island,” Mr Nelson said.

They join 20 doctors and a workforce that is more than 400 strong in servicing not just CIRWAME but the Surat Gas Aero-Medical Service (SGAS), the Air Ambulance Learjet fleet and the RACQ CareFlight Rescue helicopter service.

“CareFlight doctors are on board all Queensland Government emergency helicopters, our own community and commercial helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, as well as being on Royal Flying Doctor aircraft at three Queensland bases,”
CareFlight chief executive Ashley van de Velde said.

CareFlight has certainly come a long way since starting operations on the Gold Coast in 1981 with one helicopter and a dream to help the injured and ill.

Yet management remain driven to constantly adapt and improve, all the while looking to the corporate world to help fund its fleet of six community helicopters.

“We are always pushing the boundaries, looking for ways to improve our service, both in the aviation and medical fields,” Mr van de Velde said.

With two current CSG-LNG contracts, one providing Curtis Island services and the second just extended for another five years in the Surat basin, CareFlight is well placed to continue ventures in this field.

“The money earned from the gas operations has been injected back into the community helicopter service,” Mr van de Velde said.

“It has enabled us to pursue other corporate ventures with the focus again on folding that money back into providing the best care and aviation practice for the RACQ CareFlight Rescue helicopter fleet.

“Ultimately, it always comes back to a high standard of care to the patient – always has, always will.”