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LifeFlight doctor drops into GC2018 carrying the Queen’s Baton

Gold Coast doctor and Chief Medical Officer of Queensland's leading aeromedical service LifeFlight, Dr Allan MacKillop, ‘dropped in’ and carried the Queen’s Baton as part of the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) on its penultimate leg before the start of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018). 

The pioneering doctor, known to colleagues as ‘Dr Al’, made a dramatic early morning entrance to the Gold Coast onboard the LifeFlight Rescue helicopter. Dr Al was winched down from the state-of-the-art chopper before he commenced his ‘land leg’ of the QBR at Point Danger.

LifeFlight - the iconic Queensland aeromedical service - which began on the Gold Coast in 1981, flew over the water and hovered above the Captain Cook Memorial in a thrilling start to day 99 for the QBR.

Dr Al said he was honoured and privileged to have been nominated as a Batonbearer in his home city.
The retrieval physician and specialist anaesthetist has played an integral role in the aeromedical charity since its early days, working onboard one single-engine helicopter when it operated from a small base at Carrara.

Over the past 37 years, LifeFlight has saved more than 49,000 lives and now covers 41 council regions in Queensland and northern New South Wales, servicing 75 percent of the state’s population.

“Being a proud Gold Coast resident, it is one of the greatest thrills to be chosen to be a part of the Queen’s Baton Relay and especially to be delivering it in such a spectacular way,” said Dr Al.

“LifeFlight has been such a big part of the Gold Coast and such a massive part of my life, so to be able to jump on board our state-of-the-art AW139 rescue helicopter and be winched down before the people of the Gold Coast for my leg of the Relay was absolutely fantastic.”

LifeFlight’s AW139 and its other rescue helicopters will also form part of the aeromedical rescue and inter-hospital transfer service to and from the Gold Coast which will be in operation during the Commonwealth Games.

LifeFlight Chairman and Commonwealth Games Legacy Advisory Committee Chair, Rob Borbidge said he was thrilled that the lifesaving aeromedical service was able to play an important role in carrying the Queen’s Message and delivering it by the air to the Gold Coast.

Mr Borbidge - also a Gold Coast resident, former Premier and former Member for Surfers Paradise - was in London when the QBR began last year.

He said he knew it would be exciting and fulfilling for every Gold Coast resident to see the Queen’s Baton arrive via helicopter into Point Danger.

“The LifeFlight Rescue helicopter, with our most experienced doctor, Dr Al, on board flying in over the water just after dawn was a spectacular way to deliver the Queen’s Baton on the penultimate day as it journey’s into the Opening Ceremony,” said Mr Borbidge.

Dr Al was nominated as a Batonbearer for his 30-plus years of dedicated lifesaving service to the Gold Coast region. It all began almost 40 years ago with frequent phone calls in the middle of the night to attend the scene of horrific road accidents.

Almost every week, the Gold Coast-based doctor would be called to help save the life of a severely injured driver. Dr Al was one of the only anaesthetists in the Gold Coast and Byron Bay area, and one of the few doctors who volunteered their medical services to the community rescue helicopter service. He was well known in the region and was often called by ambulance staff to assist at the scene of serious accidents.

“At the time I would travel with my own rescue medical equipment in my own car so I started an advanced medical care service by default because I was asked to do it so often,” he said.

“It got to the point where the ambulance gave me a flashing red light on a magnet to put on the roof of the car, which was very unusual in those days.”

Dr Al’s mode of transport soon became a helicopter as he took to the skies with LifeFlight to help patients who had been involved in serious accidents and help them get to emergency medical treatment faster.

“It became obvious that having a rescue helicopter service to come to these parts of the Gold Coast, especially the lonely country roads in the hinterland, to take seriously injured patients to the hospital would be much better,” he said.

“At my call and request, LifeFlight would fly the helicopter from the Carrara base to the nearest hospital where I had someone injured in a highway accident. I would then get onto the helicopter with the patient and fly to Gold Coast, Tweed Heads or a Brisbane hospital and then I’d get a taxi back home. We did the best we could.”

In the early years, one single engine helicopter performed around 150 airlifts a year. Now LifeFlight doctors perform more than 5,000 patient transfers or rescues each year across Queensland with a fleet of nine helicopters and three jets and provides LifeFlight Critical Care doctors to the state's other aeromedical rescue organisations.

“The first helicopter was very small, the patient’s head was always sitting between the doctor’s knees and feet – it was very, very cramped. We had a single pilot and an ambulance officer,” said Dr Al.

“However, we all enjoyed the work because we did everything as an aeromedical crew. We did a lot of ocean water rescues in those early days and did a lot of training in lakes, rivers and around waterfalls.”

Fast forward 37 years and LifeFlight has expanded from five volunteers into a dedicated team of more than 400 staff, including more than 130 doctors, nurses and paramedics on its rescue helicopters and Air Ambulance jets.