HEMS officer reveals details of his first winch rescue

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A newly-recruited helicopter emergency services officer has told the story of his first winching rescue — on his second day on the job.

Babcock Australia rescue crew officer (RCO) Garrett Parkes, a former ocean lifeguard and current Army Reservist, successfully winched a patient from an anchored container ship off Port Alma, southeast of Rockhampton, just two days after finalising his training and receiving his qualification.

Parkes said RACQ CapRescue was tasked by Queensland Health to the ship, to retrieve a man who was suffering heart complications. Babcock has had a partnership with RACQ CapRescue in Rockhampton since 2013, providing pilots, crew, and maintenance for two modified AW139 helicopters, and a backup Bell 412.

“We went out and did a reconnaissance but the conditions were not favourable in the dark with no reference point for the pilot, so with the patient in a stable condition, we opted to do it at first light the next morning,” Parkes said.

“The boat was at anchor but there was a bit of wind a small amount of swell when I was lowered onto the ship. I secured the patient in an Air Rescue Vest and we were both winched into the helicopter where the patient was assessed and monitored by the on-board critical care paramedic. We then transported the patient to the Rockhampton Hospital for further observation.”

“Technically, it was my second day on the job and straight off the bat I get my first rescue under my belt,” he added.

Parkes said being just days out of training was an advantage, having the required knowledge still extremely fresh in his mind

“I’d just come off a few solid weeks of training so it was still fresh in my mind, it just felt natural. It was great to do it for real, it was so rewarding,” he said.

“It’s quite a dream opportunity being in emergency services, working on the helicopters is the tip of the spear in some regards.

“To be involved in such a highly skilled team, whether it be the pilots, the air crew, the doctors and the paramedics, being surrounded by people like that is really rewarding. It’s great to see everyone working together and doing a rather unique and amazing job for the local community.”

Mark Fewtrell, executive director at RACQ CapRescue, said its partnership with Babcock under Queensland Health’s Emergency Helicopter Network delivers “vital life-saving services” across central Queensland.

“Our region is full of diverse terrain which often presents unique challenges for our rescue crews. On just his second day, Garrett was given an insight into the difficulties faced when performing a winch rescue over water in less than ideal conditions,” he said.

“Now that Garrett has completed his first rescue, we officially welcome him to the team that continues to make a real difference.”

“This retrieval underlines the challenges posed by the weather and environment,” said Babcock Australasia’s acting managing director – aviation & critical services, Duncan Milne.

“It also highlights our commitment to ensuring safe, effective and efficient services to the community, while keeping the paramedics, doctors and nurses we work with safe when conducting airborne operations.”

“Congratulations to Garrett on his first rescue and for continuing to embody our spirit of service,” he added.

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