History

30 years of saving lives

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One afternoon in 1986, a group met in a hamburger café. Their big idea: to change the face of Australian aeromedical rescue to assist with saving lives.

Thanks to the dedication, passion and talents of those extraordinary founders, CareFlight is celebrating 30 years of flying to the rescue of people in need and saving lives.

It’s a story everyone in the community can be proud of – because at its heart, CareFlight exists only to serve our community.

With the help of our supporters, we’ve rescued more than 50,000 people from all corners of our country as well as overseas. Together, we bring hope and help when it’s needed most.

A dream takes flight

The concept of taking the expertise of a major hospital to the accident scene was new. A group of medical professionals, pilots and aircrew were determined to make it happen.

Co-founder Ian Badham and the group worked hard over five months to source funding and equipment, train crew and figure out the logistics. In July 1986, CareFlight got off the ground.

CareFlight’s first patients were 14-year-old Andrew Withers and his 12-year-old sister Heidi, who were injured when their father’s ute rolled on black ice.

Dr Paul O’Connell, pilot Alain Le Lec and air crewman Wayne Vardanega flew back-to-back missions to transfer the children to hospital, where they made a full recovery.

The team proved that CareFlight had what it took to deliver a first class medical rescue service. 

Those children were just the beginning. We’ve never stopped working since the dream began 30 years ago, to help give people the best chance of survival.

To continue our vital work, we need your help.

On a mission to save more lives

From the beginning, our passion has been to get better, faster and smarter at saving lives. It’s driven us to set new standards in aeromedical rescue in Australia.

We’ve evolved from a single helicopter flying only in daylight hours to a 24-hour operation that extends to medical training and research.

An example of our education program is our volunteer trauma care workshop.

nt jabiru trauma workshop
A MediSim workshop in Jabiru.

Imagine being first on the scene of a serious accident in a remote area, knowing it could be hours before medical professionals arrive to provide the lifesaving care that the patient needs. This is the situation emergency services volunteers confront regularly.

We wanted to find a way to support these heroic first responders. CareFlight’s MediSim trauma care workshops ensure they are in a position to respond quickly and effectively to emergency situations in their communities.

Our pioneering Head Injury Retrieval Trial is an example of our research work. The trial was designed to test whether taking a trauma physician to accident scenes would improve patient outcomes. The data showed a 16 per cent reduction in deaths when unconscious patients were treated by a doctor. The trial also had the effect of improving the system of trauma care for children.

With your support, there’s no limit to what we can achieve – please give today.

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When people needed us, we were there

Over the decades, CareFlight has flown to thousands of accidents, some of which have become etched on the memories of many Australians.

One which comes to mind involved a young girl, Teneille Bolte, who was swept into a river when it was in full flood.

It was a rainy afternoon and the light was fading fast. CareFlight pilots didn’t have night vision goggles at that time. The helicopter crew didn’t have much time to spot Teneille’s head bobbing in the dark water and rescue her before she hit the weir.

Against the odds, they saw her. A paramedic was winched down the wire from the helicopter to grab her, but she was dragged from his grasp; they had to try again.

To make things worse, the pilot could see power cables stretched across the river as he flew. There’s nothing like a cable to down a helicopter. They had to fly over the first set of cables and come down on the other side, trying to keep Teneille in sight as the current swept her on.

Ahead, the weir loomed. With mere seconds to spare, the paramedic reached down and plucked Teneille from the water.

It was a memorable feat – and a testament to the skill of the pilot and the crew, the courage of the paramedic and their absolute commitment to save Teneille’s life.

Every day, CareFlight is there for the community, ready to take on the next mission. Your donation will help us be there when we’re needed.

30 years ago we had a dream: CareFlight – combining ‘care’ and ‘flight’ – and taking the hospital to the patient.

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Together, we can keep flying to the rescue

It’s been an incredible journey, thanks to the dedication of our founders, the tremendous work of our staff and the steadfast support of the community.

Your commitment to CareFlight gives us the backing we need to do our vital work.

Every year, CareFlight undertakes around 5,000 missions. As the calls on our crews rise, it’s never been more important to keep this critical lifesaving service flying.

Your gift today will help us save lives. We can’t do it without you.
Please accept our sincerest thanks for being part of CareFlight’s support base. The next life we save may be yours or someone you love.

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