In 1997, CapRescue welcomed an increase in funding from the Queensland and local governments, along with an increase in community support through corporate sponsorships, workplace giving and individual donations. Support included a joint donation from the JM Kelly Group and local Rotary clubs of approximately $45,000 to fund the construction of the very first Rockhampton Hospital helipad. The helipad was a welcome addition to the hospital, allowing the crew to safely land and transport patients more efficiently.
Our first helicopter, the Bell LongRanger, was lost in May when it caught fire after landing at Tartrus Station; thankfully no lives were lost. The permanent replacement aircraft, also a Bell LongRanger, had the call sign VH-FFI and upon commencing operations in September, it became affectionately known at FiFi. With advanced avionics and updated medical outfitting including a heart defibrillator and medical oxygen system, “Fifi” was an upgrade on the previous model, building on the standard of excellence that the service endeavoured to deliver.
Not staying grounded for long, Fifi lifted off one morning in September in search of an activated Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) in the Tannum Sands area. The distress signal was detected by satellite at about 9 am, prompting AusSAR the national search and rescue co-ordination centre in Canberra to task the CapRescue crew to investigate further. Following an extensive search of the waters south-east of Gladstone, the signal was found to be coming from a private residence at Tannum Sands, in a boat sitting in the yard. The beacon appeared to have been activated by two children aged around three and four, who were playing in the boat earlier that morning. The false alarm led to a search and rescue mission costing upwards of $10,000. Executive officer at the time Grahame Wease urged all boat owners to check that their EPIRBs were stored correctly and not accessible to children or any other person who could activate them inadvertently.
This incident led CapRescue to give the Gladstone community a subtle push to increase their support of the service. By the end of 1997, approximately 40 per cent of all rescues and hospital transfers conducted by CapRescue were in the Gladstone and Calliope area; however, only 3 per cent of the service’s funds were donated from the same region. At that stage, corporate donations were non-existent despite Gladstone’s large industrial district. We are pleased to say that fast forward 25 years, and the Gladstone region, including corporate businesses and community members, has become one of our largest supporters.
A patient involved in a road accident north of Marlborough was airlifted to Rockhampton.