A vision became a reality in 1996 for local businessman John Bavea, with the launch of CapRescue. A near-new Bell LongRanger helicopter worth approximately $1.5 million was purchased from Japan by Grant Kenny and Sunshine Coast businessmen Des Scanlan and Roy Thomson, and fitted out in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, in preparation for its lease to CapRescue. The purchase, together with the establishment of a new entity called Rescue Helicopters, ensured the Rockhampton operation successfully got off the ground. Drawing heavily on experience gained by the already established Rescue Helicopter Service on the Sunshine Coast, it was decided that the initial CapRescue team would consist of two full-time pilots and nine volunteer crew members. The volunteer crew members were to be recruited from a selection of QAS and QFES officers.
The first year of operations was not without its hiccups; however, the staff, crew, and board’s focus on the safety of the Central Queensland community was unwavering. After just a short time as fully operational, it became overwhelming apparent that the service needed a full-time, dedicated crew. Unfortunately, under the volunteer system, crew availability was not a sure thing, and nor did it guarantee that all crew were medically trained to QAS standards. In response, the CapRescue board began looking into the logistics of employing a full-time, fully trained crew.
For the first time, on 18 February, the CapRescue crew launched from a rented hangar on Canoona Road, Rockhampton, and completed their first rescue. An American paraplegic who had been tandem skydiving on Great Keppel Island required transport after he broke his leg. The mission was a great success, and the crew were later happy to hear that their first patient went on to make a full recovery.
The crew spent most of early 1996 island hopping along the east coast, performing a couple of rescues in the Gladstone region. An English woman was airlifted off Heron Island and transported to Brisbane in March after being attacked by a shark, and in April, a patient with a medical condition was transferred from Facing Island to the Gladstone Hospital.
It was not until August that the crew carried out their first Rockhampton rescue: the retrieval of a child who had fallen from a cliff at the foothills of the Berserker Ranges. The service went on to chalk up 74 rescues in areas such as Biloela, Blackwater, Emerald, Gladstone, Great Keppel Island and Middlemount during its first year of saving lives in Central Queensland.
The community gathered at a rented hangar on Canoona Road to welcome CapRescue’s first aircraft.