RACQ LifeFlight now able to save more North-West lives with new chopper

The announcement by Police and Emergency Services Minister Mark Ryan of a new $2.4 million, 12-month funding package for the Mount Isa LifeFlight base has enabled the charity to introduce a better, faster helicopter which will double the lifesaving capability.

The current twin-engine Bell 230 will be replaced by a twin-engine BK117 which offers a better medical platform, improves speed and range and allows for two patients to be transported in most situations (compared to one currently).

Mount Isa’s new helicopter – due to arrive by August – will also be Night Vision Goggle (NVG) capable, which will enhance the three-man crew’s night flying capability and allow them to land in almost any location within a 300km radius.

The aircraft will also have winch equipment on board, another improvement on the current rescue helicopter, which will enable the crew to winch patients from situations where the chopper is unable to land.

 “The North-West is such a vast area and it’s so important that our crews are equipped to be able to perform lifesaving missions when people need it most. The upgraded helicopter is great news for the community,” said LifeFlight Deputy Chairman Jim Elder.

“The enhanced capability is significant, now that we can carry two patients as well as fly further, faster and anywhere at night. It should provide a greater peace of mind to everyone living or visiting the North-West that LifeFlight will be there for them – anyone, anywhere, anytime.”

LifeFlight has been operating from its Mount Isa base – its most remote community helicopter base of five in Queensland – since July 2015, when it merged with NQ Rescue which had operated in the region since 2007.

Patient retrieval in the North-West has also been enhanced with the introduction last year of a joint aeromedical operations model with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The model, implemented through an Aeromedical Joint Operations Oversight Committee (AJOOC), is chaired by the Hon Tony McGrady AM.

It ensures optimum patient outcomes by using the most appropriate aircraft depending on the medical emergency.

“We always knew that expanding the operations of the Mount Isa helicopter would bring new challenges to the Oversight Committee,” said Mr McGrady. 

“That’s why we were so pleased when the five Mayors of the region’s local councils agreed to assist the iconic RFDSQ and LifeFlight in integrating the services and ensuring it achieved long term sustainable funding outcomes.”

The Mount Isa-based RACQ LifeFlight rescue helicopter has performed 48 missions since July 2015, including 26 primary missions, where the helicopter landed at the scene of an incident or accident.

The most common types of incident in the North-West over the past two years have been medical episodes (cardiac, stroke, illness and infection) followed by motor vehicle accidents, falls, and animal bites or attacks.

The most recent was a 400km-round trip from Mount Isa to airlift a truck driver who had suffered suspected spinal and head injuries after being flipped two metres into the air by a rogue bull while he was mustering cattle on a remote property on the Queensland-Northern Territory border.

“Having a helicopter in the region is vitally important, especially on primary missions like the truckie injured by the bull. Sometimes the patient can’t be moved and landing close-by in that situation can significantly improve the patient outcome rather than them being driven long distances by road to an airstrip,” said Mr McGrady.

“These types of incidents can occur anywhere and at any time. LifeFlight is proud to be able to respond to so many missions in the region, because each time we attend a rescue, we’re saving a life and giving someone a second chance.

“With the allocation of this funding and an upgraded helicopter LifeFlight is committed to, and will continue to save lives in the North-West.”

Closer coordination between LifeFlight and RFDS has already provided better outcomes for patients on several occasions. In February, the services combined to save a young man who had suffered leg injuries in a two vehicle head-on crash near Cloncurry.

The RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter transported the patient from Cloncurry Hospital to the Julia Creek Airstrip, where a RFDS aircraft was waiting to transport the patient to Townsville for further treatment.

The AJOOC includes senior representation from LifeFlight and Royal Flying Doctor Service, and has the support and endorsement of the Committee’s Patron, Robbie Katter, MLA Member for Mount Isa, and the following Council leaders:

–      Deputy Mayor Phil Barwick Mount Isa City Council

–      Mayor Jane McNamara, Flinders Regional Council

–      Mayor John Wharton, Richmond Regional Council

–      Mayor Greg Campbell, Cloncurry Shire

–      Mayor Belinda Murphy, McKinlay Shire Council

–      as well as representatives of local Queensland Police Service, Queensland Ambulance Service and Glencore Copper.

The impending arrival of the new aircraft was welcomed by all local councils.

Mayor John Wharton: “We are so fortunate to have two iconic services providing a complete blanket of care for the community.”

Mayor Greg Campbell: “The Mayors are proud to be part of the Committee and its vital role to provide optimal patient outcomes in the region. We’ve been working hard since its establishment to ensure that people within the community are getting the highest level of care when they need it most.”

Mayor Jane McNamara: “It’s great to see LifeFlight and the Royal Flying Doctor Service working together in the best interests of the North-West. We know that they are great individual services, but sometimes they can be more effective when they combine their skills and resources.”

Mayor Belinda Murphy: “Remote and regional communities often miss out on lifesaving services like this because the cost can be prohibitive.  We think that the mix of RFDS fixed wing and LifeFlight’s helicopter services is a big step forward for the communities of this region.”

Deputy Mayor Phil Barwick: “We have had a long term commitment to supporting the introduction of a rotary wing service to integrate with the existing iconic Royal Flying Doctor service.  We are very pleased with this most recent funding decision noting that it is for only a further 12 months.  We will continue to represent the interests of our communities to ensure it becomes a viable long term service.”


20 – Medical (cardiac, stroke, abdominal, infection, respiratory, other)

10 – Motor vehicle accident/Motorcycle accident

6 – Falls (animal, bushwalking, other)

5 – Animal bites/attacks