By Toby Fogg, CareFlight National Medical Director and Retrieval Specialist
The world came to a standstill when New Zealand’s White Island volcano erupted on 9 December, 2019, tragically leading to the death and serious injuries of a large number of people.
Among the 47 victims, more than half of them were Australians, bringing the tragedy closer to home.
While the New Zealand government and emergency services deserve full recognition for their rapid response and rescue efforts, I am incredibly proud of the role CareFlight played in the repatriation of two Australians.
On the day after the eruption, CareFlight was put on standby by the NSW Disaster Recovery unit and our crews worked tirelessly to prepare as many resources as possible, including securing two jets to make the flight across the Tasman Sea. At this stage, little was known about the clinical condition of the patients we would be repatriating so in order to cover all eventualities, one of our advanced Hamilton transport ventilators – designed to provide mechanical ventilation to the most critical patients – was also urgently brought down from Darwin in the event a patient had sustained severe lung injuries.
On the morning of Thursday, 12 December, our clinical team comprising a specialist doctor, two nurses, pilot and first officer departed from Sydney and flew to New Zealand. They didn’t return until midnight with two patients, one of whom had very critical injuries.
While many of CareFlight’s aeromedical crews quietly operate as unsung heroes, I would like to thank each and every single person and agency who played a role in this mission. From CareFlight’s HelpPoint team who coordinated and provided full-operational support for the mission, and Air Affairs for making the aircraft available; to our aeromedical crew who retrieved and provided ongoing treatment for the patients, and the members of the Burns Unit at Concord Hospital.
Due to the integrated, unified efforts of everyone involved, this entire operation went smoothly, and we were able to bring home our fellow Australians. While this mission is just one of the many that we undertake with our CareFlight Air Ambulance service, it underpins our ethos of saving lives, speeding recovery and serving the community, whenever and wherever we are needed.
This can-do attitude is what underpins the CareFlight family; a family that I am so proud to be part of.