New doctors for RACQ Lifeflight rescue choppers

August 10, 2023 9:38 am in by
Dr Eleanor Nicholson Thomas has started work with the Sunshine Coast RACQ Lifeflight Rescue Helicopter Service

Two new RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care doctors are joining the Sunshine Coast rescue chopper crew, after undergoing rigorous training to become retrieval registrars.

Dr Eleanor Nicholson Thomas is one of them, leaving her role as an Emergency Medicine Registrar at Gold Coast University Hospital, to perform rescues and retrievals.

Dr Nicholson Thomas is among a group of 25 doctors, who will be starting work on aeromedical helicopters and jets across Queensland, after completing an intensive training week with instructors from the LifeFlight Training Academy, which prepares them for the many challenges of retrieval medicine.

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“Well, I wanted to join LifeFlight ever since I started my emergency training. I’m really excited to go out and be the first doctor to see the patient and really make a difference in their care. I love to be in the helicopter and I am looking forward to the challenges ahead,” she said.

“I first found out about LifeFlight by seeing the doctors coming in with the patients.

“They’d usually done a really good job of managing the patient in the first instance and seeing how good they are at what they do was really inspiring and is one of the reasons why I wanted to do the job myself,” she said.

“I’m quite an adventurous person so I like snowboarding and bungee jumping so this is the kind of stuff that gets me excited.”

One of the most important and challenging aspects of the training, is learning how to be winched to and from a chopper.

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“Some of our patients are in remote areas, that could be a mountainside, that could be in the bush that’s not accessible,” said LifeFlight Chief Aircrew Officer Nathan Minett.

“We need to be able to insert our paramedic and doctor into that environment so they can care for the patient and ultimately recover them.

“Whilst it’s not something we do every day there is a chance that they could go out next week and be tasked to a job on the side of a mountain or otherwise that entails winching them in to save that patient,” he said.

The doctors were also strapped into a metal helicopter simulator, which is then dunked underwater in different emergency scenarios, as part of Helicopter Underwater Escape Training (HUET).

It is a case of always hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.

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“It is highly unlikely that they’re ever going to use it, but it’s a safety issue and this can be developed for if the aircraft had an issue and had to go to the ground and was forced landing to the ground with smoke and fire being maybe the issue,” LifeFlight HUET Manager Mick Dowling said.

“With the HUET training we do a lot of it is to do with getting seatbelts on properly, locating the exit knowing where it is without actually looking for it.

“So, the whole package is designed for safety in the aircraft in regard to what may happen whether it be in the water or into the ground,” Mr Dowling said.

Back on dry land, at the Queensland Combined Emergency Services Academy at Whyte Island, the doctors were put through their paces in a series of simulated emergency scenes.

They were faced with some of the confronting realities of pre-hospital care, in realistic scenarios including a worker injured in a confined space and in need of evacuation from a ship, a near-drowning incident in a backyard pool and a car crash with fatalities and survivors.

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The majority of the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue Critical Care Doctors’ work is performed on behalf of Queensland Health, tasked by Retrieval Services Queensland, within Queensland Ambulance Service.


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