Tale of two pilots: Bundy base home of our heroes
RACQ LifeFlight Rescue and the Royal Flying Doctor Service are two much-loved Queensland institutions, and in Bundaberg they'll continue to join forces at a new purpose-built aeromedical base to best serve the community. William Holmes talks to two pilots about their life-saving work, where every second counts and cool heads prevail.
Tony Miller: RACQ LifeFlight Rescue
Flying choppers into perilous locations to rescue Queenslanders is what Tony Miller does best. It's thrilling, vital work that not only requires a calm disposition under pressure, but the ability to cope emotionally with chaotic and traumatic scenes.
"It can be emotionally challenging. People we attend to are usually in dire circumstances. They are sick, seriously injured or require rescue. We are often confronted with traumatic events and scenes where people are in the worst moments of their lives," Mr Miller said.
"Helping people feel safe, getting them to safety, reassuring and taking away the fear; it's all part of the job.
"It is especially rewarding when hearing back from people who are now reunited with their families and loved ones, or recovering from their illness or injuries, knowing that we played our part in that successful outcome."
In 1977, as a 15-year-old Wynnum-Manly lad, Tony Miller left home to join the Navy, and he stayed in the defence forces for 31 years. Mr Miller started his piloting career in 1985.
You need cool heads and aviation experience to keep it safe. This is not a job for beginners or the faint-hearted.
Since 2008 he has had a number of roles with RACQ LifeFlight Rescue including, first flying fixed wing planes and then as a teacher training pilots to fly with night vision goggles.
Now he works as a Bundaberg-based pilot, flying missions to retrieve and transport patients from locations where fixed wing planes are unable to land, such as beaches and highways.
RACQ LifeFlight Rescue operates a twin engine Bell 412, which consumes an average of 340 litres of fuel an hour. The service has been coming to the aid of people needing urgent medical care in the Bundaberg region for more than two decades and all crew members are locals, so when disaster strikes it hits home for them, too.
Last financial year, Bundaberg's RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter undertook 298 airlifts and spent more than 557 hours in the air flying critical missions.
The choppers can fly up to 500km from Bundaberg, before needing to refuel. The team - pilot, aircrew officer and a critical care paramedic - is most commonly called to emergencies related to vehicle and motorcycle accidents, cardiac conditions, falls during bushwalking and climbing or at home, and animal bites and attacks.
"I enjoy the spontaneity and the unknowns this job entails. We fly anytime, anywhere that is safe to do so. We never know where and when we are going until that phone rings. It's a great responsibility and extremely satisfying," Mr Miller said.
"The variables and unknowns make it challenging and always interesting. You need cool heads and aviation experience to keep it safe. This is not a job for beginners or the faint-hearted."
Haydn Frisby: Royal Flying Doctor Service
When the emergency call to the Royal Flying Doctor Service came in, the young woman was in a remote hospital in the final stages of her pregnancy.
Bundaberg senior base pilot Haydn Frisby, flying a Beechcraft King Air B200 at maximum speed of about 500km/h, delivered the RFDS flight nurse to the hospital in quick time.
Now it was up to her, relying on her midwifery experience and the consultation of accompanying medical professionals, to make a split-second decision about another delivery - would the woman stay and give birth at the small hospital without specialised maternity care, or try to get to a larger, more well-equipped hospital.
"After careful consideration, it was decided the best decision for both mum and bub was to try and get them to larger a hospital where they could receive the care they needed. But baby just couldn't wait and was born at 19,000 feet," recalled Cpt Frisby with a smile.
"There were four of us on the plane, and then there were five."
Mother and baby were delivered safely to their next destination. It's happy moments like these that stick with Capt Frisby and remind him why he does what he does.
This was just one of tens-of-thousands of patients that Cpt Frisby and the RFDS Bundaberg team have flown since the base first opened in March 2002.
Baby just couldn't wait and was born at 19,000 feet. There were four of us on the plane, then there were five.
Today, the Bundaberg Flying Doctor crew transport almost 2000 patients each year, in regions covering Gympie, Fraser Coast, Gladstone, Cherbourg and South Burnett, and Western Downs. In the 2018/19 financial year, the crew flew a total distance of 769,363km.
On day shift, Cpt Frisby is usually paged about 6.30am on his way to work with the day's first job. But it's never a case of just jumping in and taking flight. RFDS pilots are extremely hands-on and must oversee the entire flight process from start to finish.
"I'll do a flight plan in consultation with the nurse, the fuel planning, and the daily inspection of the aircraft. The nurse makes calls to the hospitals and gets the medical gear together," he said.
"We're always flying at close to maximum speed, and if we have a time-critical patient on board and we're going into a busy centre like Brisbane we can call priority medivac, which allows us to avoid any delays. Often, if you get put into a holding pattern above Brisbane Airport, it's because the RFDS has been given priority landing with a sick patient on board."
Help make a difference
The new aeromedical base is being built with the support of the Federal Government and Bundaberg Regional Council.
However the two charities need to contribute 50 per cent of the total project costs.
The community's support is essential in achieving their vision for a world-leading aeromedical operation in Bundaberg.
To donate or to find out more about the project, head here.