LifeFlight saves record number of Queensland lives

The end of the financial year marked the charity’s busiest year in its 36-year history, with its doctors, community rescue helicopters and Air Ambulance jets performing a record 5,252 missions.

The RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters alone – based at Brisbane, Toowoomba, Sunshine Coast, Bundaberg and Mount Isa – performed a total of 2065 missions in Queensland and northern New South Wales costing $25.81 million – at no cost to patients.

These missions ranged from primary rescues (where a crew lands at the scene of an incident) to inter-hospital transfers as well as search and rescue missions.

A number of records have fallen at LifeFlight over the past 12 months. LifeFlight’s Air Ambulance jets have also had their busiest year on record, performing 324 missions across 18 countries, an increase of 32% on the 2015-2016 financial year.

In the last financial year LifeFlight Retrieval Medicine Doctors treated and transported 4857 patients on board LifeFlight aircraft and other aeromedical retrieval services. Another 395 patients were flown by LifeFlight aircraft with other medical personnel on board.

The SGAS (Surat Gas Aero-Medical Service) helicopters also had a busy year with 101 missions flown from the Roma and Toowoomba bases, including community missions.

All of the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue community helicopters flew a record number of missions across all bases. Brisbane was the busiest with 647 lifesaving missions; Toowoomba 609 missions; Sunshine Coast 515 missions, Bundaberg 265 missions; and Mount Isa had a 32% increase on 2015-16, flying 29 lifesaving missions.

LifeFlight Chairman Rob Borbidge said LifeFlight was proud to continue helping so many in the community by providing a world class aeromedical service.

“The record year pays testament to the growing importance that our aeromedical crews play in Queensland, especially in rural and remote areas, in their lifesaving missions,” said Mr Borbidge.

“We’re proud to have not only our iconic community helicopters but also our Air Ambulance jets, and doctors and nurses in the air, providing urgent medical care to the community. Every time they take off on a mission they’re giving someone a second chance at life.

“Old, young, from the outback or the suburbs; our dedicated crews are focussed on giving everyone in Queensland equal access to emergency medical care, regardless of location.”

The Brisbane-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter performed 647 missions over the last 12 months, costing $8.1 million. The most common type of illness requiring the helicopter in the South-East was cardiac conditions.

LifeFlight Chief Operations Officer Brian Guthrie said the record year was due to several factors, including the introduction of three new AW139 rescue helicopters, which has given the company increased capacity.

“The other main factor is that there is an increased community expectation that if you are seriously sick or badly injured you will be airlifted to a hospital or transferred to a major tertiary hospital if that’s required,” said Mr Guthrie.

“That’s a product of the partnership between LifeFlight, Queensland Health and the tasking authority, Retrieval Services Queensland, who are all totally committed to providing a world class aeromedical service.”  

Former patient Richard Adams, aged 56, has no doubt that he wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for RACQ LifeFlight Rescue. The Warwick resident was airlifted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital after suffering two major heart attacks in less than an hour.

Richard remembers feeling a searing pain the centre of his chest.

“I thought it was just my bad back so I asked my wife to put some Dencorub on it,” Richard recalls.

“Then the pain hit me again and I said to her ‘it’s not my back, it’s my heart.’”

Richard’s wife loaded him into the car as fast as she could and rushed him to Warwick Hospital, where doctors confirmed he’d had a heart attack. But his battle was far from over, with Richard’s health taking another turn for the worse while at the hospital.

“I had another heart attack after I got there,” he said.

“They’d ordered the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper for someone else, but doctors decided I was more urgent so they prepped me for the flight to Brisbane.”

Upon arrival at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Richard was rushed into emergency surgery.

“I had a 98% and a 96% blockage in my arteries. The doctor told me that if I’d had another heart attack I would have died, and if it wasn’t for the helicopter I wouldn’t have survived the ambulance ride to Brisbane.”

Richard spent a few days in hospital recovering before he was sent home, but his journey back to good health didn’t stop there. His brush with death left him determined to turn his lifestyle around by eating healthier and exercising regularly.

It’s a recovery process which Richard says has been aided greatly by his sprightly Jack Russell dog, Rastus.

“Since I had the heart attack, every morning at 7.30am Rastus comes and barks and nips me until I go for a walk. We go for a 45-60 minute walk every day,” said Richard.

More than a year later and 10 kilograms lighter, Richard has a new lease on life.

“My doctor has told me ‘if you keep going the way you’re going I won’t need to see you back here again,” he laughed.

It isn’t the first time the Adams family has needed LifeFlight. Richard’s daughter Jackie, aged 7 at the time, was airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital 17 years ago after suffering pneumonia. 

With every lifesaving helicopter mission costing on average $12,500, LifeFlight continues to rely on the support of sponsors and partners – including naming rights sponsor RACQ – along with the donations and support of everyday Queenslanders around the state.

“The work of the dedicated helicopter rescue crews can literally mean the difference between life and death and we congratulate RACQ LifeFlight Rescue on its record year,” said RACQ spokesperson Lauren Ritchie.

“Both of our organisations are about helping Queenslanders, and RACQ is very proud to be the naming rights sponsor of LifeFlight’s Rescue helicopters.

“RACQ has been involved with LifeFlight’s helicopters for 23 years and has recently extended its sponsorship to the LifeFlight Air Ambulance jets. Our partnership is a long running one which we know we’ll continue for years to come.”

Representing the SGAS consortium, Arrow Energy’s Community Relations Manager Peta Tucker said the Surat Gas retrieval service provides up to 150 funded hours for community retrievals each year.

“Since 2011, Queensland gas companies Arrow Energy, Origin Energy, QGC and Santos have partnered with LifeFlight to provide a Roma and Toowoomba-based service for gas-industry workers and community members living in the state’s South-West, Ms Tucker said.

“Almost six years on, it’s great to see what a positive impact this service has made in the Surat Basin – to have assisted more than 100 community members in the past year is a great achievement and something the industry is proud to support.”

LifeFlight is excited to start the new financial year by announcing the formation of the LifeFlight Foundation, whose core purpose is to fund and support the efforts of LifeFlight Australia’s aeromedical services.

The LifeFlight Foundation is comprised of the same team of experienced people as before, but with a structure that will maximise funding to support the growing needs of the organisation.

The LifeFlight Foundation still relies on communities help to raise nearly 30% of operating costs for the iconic RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter service.

329         Cardiac conditions
227         Motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
137         Stroke/neurological conditions
131         Respiratory conditions
112         Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other)
 Brisbane-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 647 lifesaving missions, costing $8.1 million.

139         Cardiac conditions
57           Infection/serious illness
40           Stoke/neurological conditions
33           Motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
25           Abdominal conditions

Sunshine Coast-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 515 lifesaving missions, costing $6.5million 


94           Cardiac conditions
88           Motor vehicle and motor cycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
33           Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other)
30           Stoke/neurological conditions
25           Search missions

Toowoomba-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 609 lifesaving missions, costing $7.6 million


66          Cardiac conditions
59          Motor vehicle and motorcycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
45          Stoke/neurological conditions
39          Abdominal conditions
33          Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other)

Bundaberg-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 265 lifesaving missions – , costing $3.3million 


30          Motor vehicle and motor cycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
29          Search missions
26          Cardiac conditions         
26          Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other)
24          Abdominal conditions


Mount Isa-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 29 lifesaving missions – a 32% increase on last year

4             Animals bites/attacks
4              Motor vehicle and motor cycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian)
4              Cardiac conditions
3              Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other)
2              Respiratory conditions