With high hopes, CapRescue got off to a flying start by securing additional funding from the Queensland Government to put towards the cost associated with upgrading our primary helicopter from a Bell 412EP to an AgustaWestland Bell AW139. The necessity of the upgrade was identified by the board following a 10 per cent increase in rescues during the July 2019 to December 2019 period, compared with the same period in 2018. The Queensland Government could see the other substantial benefits the AW139 would bring to the community and the network, and endorsed the project by contributing $2.4 million towards the upgrade.
Bringing to the table a far greater range—the AW139 can fly 880 km without refuelling, compared with 562 km in the Bell 412EP—an increase in speed as it is up to 30 knots/25 per cent faster, an improvement in patient care and improved safety features and capabilities—including the ability to take off and land on one engine with a full payload—the strength of the AW139 was quickly recognised by others.
Just as excitement within the community and among our partners was growing, suddenly the upgrade was in jeopardy as a pandemic swept across the world. Major industry leaders across the country responded to the global tragedy by establishing various funds worth millions of dollars. Working hard behind the scenes, endeavouring to always be on mission: to operate a world class aerial search and rescue service, CapRescue swiftly got the AW139 project back on track after securing $100,000 from BHP through their Vital Resource’s Fund. BHP’s support contributed towards the initial mobilisation costs of the helicopter, ensuring that the AW139 will be operational in 2021.
As Queensland got on top of the coronavirus and restrictions eased, the community started to enjoy the outdoors once again—leading to a spike in rescues for the service. In August, eight people, including a six-month-old baby, were left holding on for their lives after their boat suddenly began taking on water near North West Island, off the Gladstone coast. The group activated their EPIRB, immediately notifying AMSA in Canberra, who began communications with our crew. CapRescue crewmen quickly located the life raft from above and alerted a nearby bulk carrier, who dispatched their rescue vessel to collect the passengers from the water. The CapRescue helicopter landed on the deck of the bulk carrier, where the rescue crewman and critical care paramedic further assessed the rescued boaties. All eight passengers were transported to Yeppoon by a Queensland Police vessel.
Like most charities, we recorded a significant decline in donations and fundraising due mostly to the cancellation of many of our fundraising events. Not willing to give up, the team put on their thinking caps and created a few online donation campaigns, which the community continued to support. These virtual campaigns, in addition to the three physical events that we delivered: Rockhampton Community Open Day, CapRescue Degustation and Gladstone Colour Me Capricorn; did fill the gap a little, but more importantly kept the community and our volunteers engaged with the service.
For the first time, we partnered with a local high school and Volunteering Queensland to deliver a Certificate II in Active Volunteering. Students from Tannum Sands State High School attended a virtual induction and accrued practical hours by virtually creating social media content, advertising fundraising events at school, collecting donation boxes and volunteering at Colour Me Capricorn Gladstone.
Tannum Sands student Jayden said about his experience as a Step Up CapRescue Youth Volunteer, “I think volunteering is a great way for students to gain new skills and experiences, while helping out in the community. CapRescue is a great place to start volunteering. The staff and other volunteers are very friendly and helpful, plus you get to meet so many new people! I’ve found volunteering at CapRescue extremely rewarding and I would highly recommend the program to other students and encourage them to get out and do something different for their community”.
Although 2020 was an extremely tough year for CapRescue, there were many projects, highlights and rescues to keep the team busy. The crew finished the year with a total of 373 rescues, flying a total of 598 hours across Central Queensland.
The CapRescue crew searched the Gladstone Harbour for a missing kayaker.