LifeFlight Air Ambulance service marks 15 years in South East QLD

From just 15 missions in its first year of operation (2004), to almost 200 missions so far this year, LifeFlight’s South East Queensland-based Air Ambulance jets have come to the aid of more than 2,000 people.

Baby Elias, who was born with a rare heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot, is one of those patients.

“Elias was meant to have his full heart repair at 6 months old, but unfortunately Elias didn’t want to play that game and when he was six weeks old he started having ‘tet spells’ which is where he loses oxygen and turns blue,” Elias’s mother Sarah Dougan explained.

Elias was flown from Mackay to Brisbane, on LifeFlight’s Jet Air Ambulance Learjet, earlier this month so he could receive a higher level of care from the Queensland Children’s Hospital’s cardiac team.

“I was very nervous at the time of the flight but the staff aboard the plane were beautiful very caring and comforting,” Ms Dougan said.

“It was lovely to be able to take Sarah on board with us, as sometimes it’s not possible to fit additional family members,” LifeFlight Captain Anthony McKenna said.

“Sarah coped extremely well and Elias was at ease in her arms.”

Elias and his mum are now living at Ronald McDonald House, waiting for his next surgery.

“Elias is being closely monitored for a while, until he’s big enough to have his operation so we will be here for Christmas and away from home for a few months,” Ms Dougan said.

“Helping patients, like baby Elias is really satisfying and to know our service has helped more than 2,000 people over the past 15 years, is incredible,” Captain McKenna said.

To mark the 15 year anniversary of the vital Air Ambulance service being based in South East Qld, LifeFlight Air Ambulance staff, past and present, opened the hangar doors, to give a rare behind-the-scenes look at the Brisbane-based operation.

The LifeFlight Air Ambulance jet fleet includes two Learjet 45 aircraft and a Challenger 604, which is the longest range aeromedical aircraft available for immediate emergency deployment in Australia.

The jets service regional Queensland, transferring patients – many of whom are critically ill or injured – to major centres, where they can access expertise which may not be available in smaller communities.

“The LifeFlight Air Ambulances provide a vital link in Queensland’s health service network, making it possible to quickly and efficiently move patients across vast distances, to get them to higher levels of health care, when they need it most,” LifeFlight Air Ambulance Chief Pilot John Cornett said.

“Often, their medical situation is time-critical.

Elias was transported from Mackay to Brisbane in just one hour and ten minutes.

“The Learjets can fly at over 820 kilometres an hour, while the Challenger can reach 1,050 kilometres an hour,” Mr Cornett said.

“More than 70% of the missions completed by LifeFlight’s Air Ambulance jets are for Queensland Health patients and come at no cost to the patient,” LifeFlight Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allan MacKillop said.

The jet fleet also services international clients, through travel insurance.

“If you’re overseas and are injured or unwell, your travel insurance provider may nominate one of the LifeFlight Air Ambulance jets to bring you back to Australia,” Dr MacKillop said.

“Our aeromedical crews are on 24/7 standby and can be airborne within 90 minutes of the first activation call, from our central coordination centre.”

The twin-engine business jets, which have been converted into Air Ambulance aircraft, are the flying equivalent of an intensive care unit.

Each jet has a Captain, a First Officer, a Flight Nurse and Critical Care Doctor on board.

Dr Mackillop said patients receive the absolute highest level of clinical care from the LifeFlight aeromedical teams.

“To have a Flight Nurse and Critical Care Doctor assessing and treating the patient while they are in transit to hospital, can help lead to more positive health outcomes and potentially a faster recovery.”

The South East Queensland operation was first based at the Gold Coast, moving to Brisbane in 2014.

Air Ambulances are used primarily for high-acuity, long-range patient transport and can operate anywhere in the world, day or night, in all kinds of weather.

“The South East Qld jets have completed around 22,500 flying hours since 2004 and have used 20,250,000 litres of fuel, during missions to help people in need,” Executive Manager of the LifeFlight Coordination Centre Peter Elliot said.

LifeFlight also operates a round the clock, fully operational Air Ambulance base in Townsville.