History - CareFlight

In 1986, a group of people had a shared vision: to create a new kind of medical retrieval service in Australia. They believed that very sick patients who need to be moved between hospitals, and severely injured patients who need to be treated at the accident scene, should be attended by critical care specialists who can perform ‘physician only’ procedures. From this vision, CareFlight was born.

Initially a single helicopter daylight only operation with one doctor on duty, CareFlight flew to some four patients a month. Over the years, and with vital support from the community, the organisation has evolved and expanded. Now our doctors and nurses fly from six bases, on helicopters, turbo-prop air ambulances and medi-jets, to destinations throughout Australia and beyond.

Jump to > 1990 | 2000 | 2010 | 2015 | 2020

CareFlight first helicopter
CareFlight's first helicopter.


May: CareFlight is incorporated as a public company.

June: CareFlight commissions its first helicopter, a Squirrel AS350B (VH-HCF)

July: Andrew Withers, 14, and his sister Heidi, 11, become CareFlight’s first helicopter patients, following a car crash. They are flown from Lithgow to Westmead and both make a full recovery.

September: NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth MP officially opens the CareFlight Service.

Manly Rescue 1987
CareFlight’s Dr Louis Gallur (left) is one of the rescue group awarded bravery medals for their rescue efforts.


March: Multi-transport mode retrieval – helicopter, fixed wing and road ambulance – commences.

May: CareFlight becomes the first emergency helicopter service in NSW to go on 24-hour duty.

December: A fisherman is rescued after falling down a cliff face at Bluefish Point in Manly at night. CareFlight crew members receive a bravery award for their rescue efforts

Stretcher Bridge
The CareFlight Stretcher Bridge.


August: The CareFlight Stretcher Bridge, the world’s first fully integrated mobile intensive care module, enters service.

October: The Dauphin SA365C-2 helicopter is commissioned.


May: SCAT (Special Casualty Access Team) Paramedics from Ambulance Service join CareFlight.

“Nobody said you could give a general anaesthetic at the side of a cliff, but we did it. Nobody said you could resuscitate some of the near drownings, but we did it.” 
Dr Ken Wishaw (founding doctor) 

DOWNLOAD 30 year timeline


January: CareFlight implements medical registrar training scheme after becoming the first Australasian non-hospital organisation to be granted accreditation for specialist training in critical care.

February: NSW Health Minister Peter Collins MP opens the Westmead operations base.

March: CareFlight conducts its first international retrieval, transporting a patient from Penang.


July: CareFlight’s 2,000th patient, six month-old Nathan Isedale, is flown to Camperdown Children’s Hospital after being admitted to Bowral Hospital with viral pneumonia. 

ian badham


October: CareFlight co-founder Ian Badham receives the international Association of Air Medical Services Marriott-Carlson Award.

December: The Bell 412HP helicopter arrives at the CareFlight Base.

Opera House landing 1995
CareFlight's Bell helicopter lands at the Sydney Opera House in 1995.


January: The new Bell helicopter undertakes its first mission to a hang glider crash in the Blue Mountains.

January: CareFlight conducts its first three-patient mission on the Bell helicopter, following a car crash near Tamworth.


April: In an Australian first, the CareFlight medical team uses an intra-aortic balloon pump during a helicopter patient transfer.

July: CareFlight retrieves its 5,000th patient.

Eliza 1997
Eliza Stankovic


June: CareFlight receives the Royal Humane Society’s commendation for the difficult rescue of an injured man at Glenbrook in the Blue Mountains.

September: CareFlight is called to Bowral Hospital to retrieve 16-year-old Eliza Stankovic who is suffering from meningococcal disease. Dr Alan Garner spends 1 1/2 hours fighting to keep ahead of the spreading infection and stabilise her for transport. Eliza has both legs amputated below the knee, as well as some of her fingers, but goes on to become a paralympian.

Eliza is one of 18 meningococcal patients transported by CareFlight during the year.

Prince Philip Award


August: A 13-year-old girl is rescued from the flooded Nepean River seconds before she is swept over a weir. The CareFlight crew are later recognised for their bravery with a number of prestigious international awards.

December: CareFlight rescues seven sailors from the stricken yacht Business Post Naiad during wild storms in the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. The CareFlight crew later receive the Prince Philip Award and other wide recognition for the rescue efforts.


January: CareFlight rescues its 7,000th patient, from a crashed aircraft near Merriwa.

February: CareFlight receives the 1998 Award for Aviation Safety Excellence in the AOC category.

June: CareFlight signs an affiliation with Charles Sturt University for teaching and pre-hospital medical research.

orange hangar 2000
The Orange hangar.


August: CareFlight’s Central West dedicated regional emergency helicopter is launched by NSW Health Minister Craig Knowles MP at Orange, and NSW Premier Bob Carr at Wellington.

September: In its first mission, the Central West CareFlight helicopter flies a patient from Condobolin.


May: CareFlight’s Central West helicopter Agusta A119 ‘Koala’ is launched at Darling Harbour.

pre-hospital trauma course
A pre-hospital trauma course underway.


February: CareFlight retrieves its 10,000th patient.

July: The first CareFlight Pre-Hospital Trauma Course takes place.


January: CareFlight attends the Waterfall train crash in which seven people are killed. CareFlight medical teams triage, treat and transport the injured.

Banda Aceh 2004
Two CareFlight doctors are part of the NSW-led team, performing 140 major operations, hundreds of minor procedures and assessing and treating numerous patients over a 10 day period.


May: CareFlight acquires the Agusta A109E helicopter for the Head Injury Retrieval Trial project.

December: CareFlight’s disaster cache is deployed to Banda Aceh in support of the Australian Civilian Surgical Team after the south Asian tsunami.

Head Injury Retrieval Trial launch
Head Injury Retrieval Trial is officially launched.


March: CareFlight and NRMA Insurance, in partnership with the Ambulance Service of NSW, launch the Head Injury Retrieval Trial in the presence of Premier Bob Carr MP.

May: HIRT accesses its first patient at Kurrajong.

September: CareFlight retrieves its 14,000th patient.

Winch Sim launch
CareFlight's Winch Sim.


February: NSW Member for Parramatta Tanya Gadiel MP officially opens the Winch Simulator at Westmead.

May: CareFlight treats five-year-old burns victim Sophie Delezio after she is hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing. The CareFlight medical team give Sophie a blood transfusion and place her on life support before flying her to Randwick Children’s Hospital.

June: CareFlight’s rebuilt and enhanced disaster cache is deployed to earthquake devastated Java in support of the NSW/ACT Australian Medical Assistance Team.

July: CareFlight celebrates 20 years of saving lives.

CareFlight International Darwin Launch
CareFlight International Darwin service is officially launched by Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, The Hon Clare Martin


February: CareFlight International Air Ambulance conducts its first mission out of Darwin.

February: CareFlight International flies East Timor’s President Ramos-Horta from Dili to Darwin under full intensive care, following a shooting assassination attempt.

March: CareFlight International Darwin service is officially launched by Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, The Hon Clare Martin.

May: CareFlight’s contract to provide helicopter services to the Ambulance Service expires, but CareFlight secures a seven-year contract to provide doctors to the NSW medical retrieval system.

October: CareFlight commences first contract to provide helicopter AME to ADF exercises at Mt Bundey Training Range, NT.

November: HIRT operations are extended to the Central Coast.

December: The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) grants approval to CareFlight to fly night operations using night vision goggle technology.

night vision goggles history


April: CareFlight uses Night Vision Goggles (NVG) in an Australian civilian first when participating in a search and rescue mission to locate a lost plane off the NSW south coast.

July: CareFlight treats Northern Beaches toddler Charlie when he falls onto his head from a bunk and goes into cardiac arrest. He is flown to hospital under full intensive care and miraculously makes a complete recovery.

December: CareFlight International Air Ambulance, now averaging five to six missions per week, conducts a record 33 retrievals this month.

Darwin nvg mission 2009


January: Our helicopter service goes national as we provide aero-medical support to the Northern Territory government.

January: CareFlight conducts its inaugural NVG medical mission when flying a critically ill infant from Katherine to Darwin Hospital.

February: In NT’s first civilian NVG search and rescue mission, CareFlight rescues a man trapped by rising floodwaters in crocodile infested territory.

October: CareFlight moves into new national headquarters, made possible by a generous grant from the MAA.

CareFlight fixed wing aircraft in Darwin, 2010.


June: CareFlight commences night time HIRT operations using NVG.

July: Under an interim contract to the NT Government, CareFlight commences provision of fixed wing aeromedical services to the Top End.

October: CareFlight gains CASA certification to operate fixed and rotary wing aircraft under a single Air Operators Certificate (AOC).

MediSim simulator
The MediSim mobile trauma training simulator.


March: CareFlight launches MediSim, a mobile simulation-based trauma training program designed to support clinicians and first responders in rural and remote communities.

March: The last patient is recruited into the Head Injury Retrieval Trial. 

April: CareFlight purchases our first fixed wing aircraft, a B200 King Air turboprop plane.

June: The NT Government announces the award of a 10 year Top End Medical Retrieval Service contract to CareFlight.

July: CareFlight celebrates our 25th anniversary. We now conduct over 5,000 missions per year, flying from six bases to destinations around Australia and beyond.

October: CareFlight International Air Ambulance (CFIAA) is awarded the prestigious European Aeromedical Institute (EURAMI) Accreditation, Australia’s only provider to hold this.

November: Official launch of CareFlight MediSim, by Mayor of Orange City Council, Councillor John Davis.

December: The Northern Territory Health Minister formally opens the Northern Operations building.


February: CareFlight assumes responsibility for the provision of doctors to and clinical coordination of the Top End Medical Retrieval Service.

May: CareFlight achieves the highest award of certification for Quality in Health Management Systems, ISO 9001+ Core Health Standards.

June: CareFlight Medical Director and Chief HIRT Investigator, Dr Alan Garner, announces the outcomes of CareFlight’s Head Injury Retrieval Trial at the International Conference for Emergency Medicine in Dublin.

CareFlight Darwin Hangar 2013
CareFlight NT moves into the new state of the art Darwin hangar, the largest dedicated aeromedical facility in Australia.


January: Four near new Super King Air B200 aeroplanes enter service in the NT, after undergoing extensive modifications.

January: CareFlight commences provision of helicopter services specialising in the transfer of sick babies and children.

April: CareFlight Board approves PHANTOM (Pre-Hospital Assessment of Noninvasive Tissue Oximetry Monitoring) research project.

April: Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) presents CareFlight with 2013 Excellence in Community Service Award for the MediSim program (AAMS award).

June: Territory Insurance Office (TIO) signs a three year sponsorship agreement with CareFlight, committing a minimum $250,000 per annum to CareFlight’s NT operations.

August: CareFlight achieves AS4801 OHS quality certification.

August: CareFlight NT moves into the new state of the art Darwin hangar, the largest dedicated aeromedical facility in Australia.

September: Broken Hill sees CareFlight train its 1,000th first responder through the MediSim Trauma Care Workshop program.

CareFlight's Agusta AW139 helicopter.


March: CareFlight secures a six year contract to provide aeromedical support to INPEX for their Ichthys oil & gas operations off the coast of WA.

June: CareFlight’s new state of the art Agusta AW139 helicopter comes online in the NT.

June: Origin Energy becomes a National Partner of CareFlight’s MediSim Trauma Care Workshop.

June: The fully inter-operational I-CARE stretcher system, designed by CareFlight, INPEX and Aeronautical Engineers Australia, enters service.

jet first mission
CareFlight crew following the first international mission on the CareFlight owned and operated medi-jet.


February: CareFlight marks 10 years of rapid response service with Past Patients Day.

July: CareFlight is the beneficiary of our largest ever bequest, more than $2 million, from the estate of the late Margaret Alice Porter.

November: In a complex, time-critical mission involving two helicopters, a long range air ambulance and two Darwin based medical teams, CareFlight rescues the pilot of a mustering helicopter that crashed on a remote station in the NT.

December: Christmas Eve sees CareFlight’s first international mission on the CareFlight owned and operated medijet. This brings our jet operations completely in-house, achieving the goal of providing a fully integrated aeromedical service.

30 years of CareFlight


May: CareFlight celebrates 30 years of saving lives, speeding recovery and serving the community. We now conduct around 5,000 missions a year.

May: The team counts that two million bears are bought by CareFlight supporters over the last 25 years, raising $100 million to help save lives!


March: CareFlight launches our Reconciliation Action Plan outlining our commitment to First Australians and our detailed plans to better embed cultural understanding across the organisation.

December: NSW Health awards CareFlight a long-term contract to provide fixed wing patient transport services in northern NSW. This Patient Transport Service (PTS) aims to give more people in regional and rural areas access to a higher level of health care by transporting patients to major tertiary hospitals for specialist treatment.


April: CareFlight becomes the first service in Australia to routinely carry plasma to accident scenes. The first patient is a 74-year-old man involved in a motor vehicle accident. 

March: In partnership with Darwin International Airport, CareFlight constructs a second new purpose-built hangar in the Top End to house our growing fleet. 

May: CareFlight appoints new CEO Mick Frewen to replace retiring CEO Derek Colenbrander. Mick joins CareFlight after an exemplary and varied career in both business and the Australian armed forces. 

August: The Northern territory Government’s Top End Health Service awards CareFlight a contract to deliver a road transport solution to move high acuity and low acuity patients between the new Palmerston Regional Hospital (PRH) and Royal Darwin Hospital. 

August: the NSW Rural Fire Service contracts CareFlight to assist with preventative bush fire measures including fire-bombing and back burning pre-fire season. CareFlight pilots and aircrew officers help fly the RFS helicopters. 


December: The Reputation Institute names CareFlight as the most reputable charity in Australia based on measures of trust, admiration, respect and overall esteem. 


February: CareFlight launches the second stage of our Reconciliation Action Plan which focuses on further developing and strengthening relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, engaging staff and stakeholders in reconciliation, and developing and piloting innovative strategies to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

April: The Australian Government provides funding to CareFlight as part of an aeromedical retrieval package to increase Australia’s capacity in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

July: The Northern Territory Government appoints CareFlight as its dedicated aeromedical evacuation services jet provider, with a five-year solution that introduces a new Gulfstream G150 jet.  


February: CareFlight unveils our new world-class helicopter at the Sydney Opera House. The H145 helicopter is the first aeromedical aircraft of its kind in Australia, can be airborne within three minutes of activation and with a flight speed of up to 250km/hr can reach patients in Sydney, Blue Mountains and Central Coast within 15 minutes. Patients in Greater Sydney now have improved access to lifesaving treatment with the addition of one of the world’s most advanced aeromedical aircraft to our fleet.

July: Mounties Care comes on board as naming rights partners to the CareFlight Rapid Response Helicopter Service, helping ensure the ongoing viability for one of the most advanced aeromedical helicopters in Australia. The H145 helicopter is branded Mounties Care CareFlight Helicopter.