From humble but significant beginnings on the Gold Coast in 1981, LifeFlight has steadily become an icon of Queensland’s skies and a lifeline to more than 45,000 people.
Fuelled by the desire of current CEO Ashley van de Velde and other dedicated volunteers, the Gold Coast Helicopter Rescue Service was established to bring rapid rescue response to our beaches, and search and rescue capabilities to our hinterland.
In 1992 the service expanded, changing its name to CareFlight Group QLD Limited, and increasing its footprint to include Southern Queensland and Northern New South Wales.
RACQ became the naming rights sponsor a year later, donating vital funds to help keep the service airborne. The partnership has lasted more than two decades and is one of Australia’s longest sponsorship agreements that stands proud today.
During the 1990s, the service looked at other ways to help fund and support the now vital community service by delving into the corporate world. This diversification model served the service well, helping it to grow into one of Australia’s most expansive air-medical services.
It started with the introduction of the iconic CareFlight Bears (now LifeFlight Bears) and merchandise sales, followed by the introduction of Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET) courses which are now undertaken by thousands of aviation, medical and media professionals annually in order to drive funds.
In 1995, the first of LifeFlight’s six twin engine Bell 412 helicopters arrived, allowing the service to travel farther, in all weather and at night, to help those in need.
LifeFlight continued to break new ground at the turn of the century. CareFlight Medical Services, now known as LifeFlight Retrieval Medicine, was established to provide training of doctors and medical crew. Queensland Health awarded the organisation the highly sought after contract to provide doctors on both fixed and rotary wing aero-medical services throughout the State.
In 2004, the organisation's fleet expanded with the purchase of a Learjet 45 and LifeFlight's Air Ambulance service began.
In the South West, patient demand saw a part-time base established in Toowoomba in 2006 and, the following year, a Bell 230 twin engine helicopter was purchased to service the region.
Further acquisitions and growth followed in 2008, with the purchase of a second Learjet to the Air Ambulance fleet and the opening of the LifeFlight Training Academy on the Gold Coast in 2009, the same year a second Bell 412 helicopter was purchased to service the Toowoomba region.
In 2010, the Toowoomba service became a full time operation and a year later the Surat Basin Gas Industry Aeromedical Service (now Surat Gas Aero-Medical Service) was created. The Curtis Island Rotary Wing Aeromedical Service followed and three additional Bell 412 helicopters were acquired to service both these commercial contracts.
In July 2013 LifeFlight took another major step forward, merging with the iconic Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service (SCHRS) operating out of the Sunshine Coast and Bundaberg. The merger brought together two of Australia’s most capable helicopter rescue services and significantly streamlined air-medical care for patients in the process.
SCHRS brought to LifeFlight a long and illustrious history dating back to 1979. The service began with match funding from the Queensland Government and in 1985 purchased a LongRanger using a $450,000 Government grant. In 1997, the first of two BK117s was purchased and a year later the service expanded north into Bundaberg.
The decision to merge the two iconic charities combined a mutual desire to improve patient outcomes and maximise service delivery. Long-time partner RACQ supported the merge by extending its naming rights sponsorship to include both helicopters.
Together the merged entity offers the community a combined 66 years of experience and reinforces LifeFlight's position as a leader in aeromedical care.
In 2014, a milestone year saw a number of landmark projects and initiatives come to fruition.
The Air Ambulance division acquired a new Bombardier Challenger CL-604 jet whilst the community rotary wing sector purchased two new AgustaWestland 139 (AW139) helicopters; this marked the first time in the service’s history that new, rather than repurposed aircraft was purchased.
Another major acquisition in 2014 was the purchase of a Thales Reality H Full Flight Simulator (FFS). This is Australia’s first AW139 full motion flight simulator and is set to be the most advanced civil helicopter simulator on the market, serving the training requirements of LifeFlight and other AW139 operators in Australia and beyond.
Solidifying the sustainability of the service, a 10-year Service Agreement with Queensland Government was announced in December 2014.
In July 2015, LifeFlight merged once again with another provider, the Mount Isa-based North Queensland Helicopter Rescue Service (NQ Rescue).
On the same day, LifeFlight also launched a new aeromedical base at Brisbane Airport. It’s the first time the charity has operated in the Queensland capital. Both the Brisbane and Mount Isa bases expanded LifeFlight’s footprint significantly to include 41 council regions across Queensland, northern New South Wales and now the Northern Territory.
In July 2016, the rapidly growing organisation celebrated it's 35th anniversary and changed its name from CareFlight Group QLD Limited to LifeFlight.
Current CEO, Ashley van de Velde, is the man who pioneered the rescue service in 1981 and whose passion and dedication continues to lead the organisation forward to this day.
In July 2017, the LifeFlight Foundation was established to maximise funding to support the growing needs of the organisation through a range of different and diverse fundraising programs. The Foundation raises nearly 30% of annual operating costs to ensure the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopters can be there for anyone, anywhere, anytime.