Bundaberg's RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter service has this week celebrated 25 years in the region and pilot Peter Marris has been on board from the very beginning.
The organisation's colourful history began on 1 March 1998, after the then Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service recognised a need for the Wide Bay-Burnett to have its own dedicated aeromedical rescue chopper.
A base was established and the rescue chopper, which at the time was a Bell Jetranger, soon became operational as the Energex Rescue helicopter.
After an initial three-year trial justified the need, the Queensland Government committed additional funding to help continue the Bundaberg service and upgrade the aircraft to a Bell Longranger.
Demand in the local region continued to grow, sparking multiple aircraft upgrades over the years, including the introduction of the current Bell 412 aircraft.
There were name changes too; in 2009 it was the AGL Action Rescue helicopter.
In 2013, with the merger of Queensland’s two largest rescue helicopter services – LifeFlight (then known as CareFlight) operating from the Gold Coast and Darling Downs, and the Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service, there was another name change.
Finally in 2016, the entire fleet, including Bundaberg was renamed RACQ LifeFlight Rescue and in 2020 the helicopter and crew moved into a new, purpose-built facility at Bundaberg Airport.
Peter has been with the local helicopter rescue service from the start and said it was a rewarding job.
“I've been able to help many residents and tourists in the region over my time with the Bundaberg helicopter service,” he said.
“Some of the most memorable missions have been helping in the catastrophic 2011 and 2013 floods, where residents had to be winched from the roofs of their homes.
“I've also flown to help holidaymakers injured in dingo attacks on K'gari (Fraser Island) on multiple occasions (link to file footage below), as well as attending countless serious motor vehicle incidents, and even a tilt train derailment near Rosedale.”
Peter said he knew all too well how important the recue helicopter was to the people of Queensland in their time of need.
“The aeromedical service means people living in all areas within the Wide Bay and Burnett have access to a high standard of medical care available to them 24/7, 365 days a year,” he said.
Mary Briggs is one of the many people who have found themselves needing that vital care after she was crushed by a gate which had been kicked closed by a bull in July 2019.
She suffered multiple injuries and was airlifted to hospital by the Bundaberg-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue team.
“Once I arrived at Bundaberg Hospital, the surgeons told my family that I only had a four per cent chance of survival, so without the LifeFlight crew's knowledge and capability, I definitely wouldn't be here today,” she said.
LifeFlight has commitment to community
Through various name, colour and aircraft changes, the Bundaberg rescue chopper has flown to the aid of thousands of people in times of crisis.
In the past 10 years alone, the crew has performed 2,724 critical missions, resulting in more than 2,300 people helped.
Wide Bay-Burnett Regional Advisory Committee Chair, Neil McPhillips said despite so many changes over the past 25 years, the commitment to the community and saving lives has never faltered.
“What we have in the Wide Bay and Burnett is an amazing service that is quite literally saving hundreds of lives each year,” he said,
“We wouldn't be where we are today without the incredible support and generosity of the community, to help us continue and grow.”
Just last month the Bundaberg-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctor rotation was bolstered from three day shifts a week, to seven, to enhance the outstanding aeromedical care already provided in the region.
The highly qualified doctors are working alongside experienced aviators and Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) Flight Paramedics, some of whom have been with the service for decades.
It remains LifeFlight's ambition to expand the doctor roster to 24/7 in the future.