The behind the scenes story of CQ's air rescue heroes
RACQ CAPRICORN'S LONGEST SERVING PILOT:
HIS story began horseback mustering but Chris 'Bones' Mann soon tired of that and got his helicopter license.
Helicopter mustering across a vast area of Australia, Bones' work stretches from the Kimberley all through Queensland.
In 2003 he started as a Utility Pilot in Gladstone with Marine Helicopters (now Babcock).
This role included night marine transfers, strip power lines, fire fighting, lighthouse works and more.
Bones remained in this role until 2009 when he secured his position with RACQ Capricorn Rescue.
The longest serving pilot of RACQ Capricorn Rescue, Bones encompasses a vast amount of experience and knowledge with over 7000 plus flying hours.
During this time, Bones has been an integral part of more than 1379 rescues and has seen a lot of changes to the Service over the years.
His passion for the Service and what it provides to the community is evident, he says the fact that he is responsible for assisting to save lives and keep communities safe is what he is most passionate about.
After 10 years with the service, Bones says there are a lot of jobs that stand out to him, but none more than the Rockhampton floods in 2011 and 2013.
The 2011 flood event included the evacuation of the township of Theodore and winch rescues of persons from Lowmead, Bundaberg and Biloela.
The 2013 flood event was also significant and saw RACQ Capricorn Rescue tasked to more than 28 winches in a period of three days in the local area including Rockhampton and Gladstone, all with Bones in the pilot seat.
While there is an air of anxiousness with you as you arrive at the scene of an accident or rescue, working with a professional and focused crew to help someone in need is what it's all about for Bones.
"A positive outcome at the end of the mission is really the greatest reward you could receive," he said.
MEET THE REST OF THE TEAM:
Patrick Norton - Senior Air Crewman:
SOME may want a quiet life after 10 years in the military but Patrick Norton is not one of those people.
After serving in the Australian Army on Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, Mr Norton wanted a job that kept him in the aviation industry, so he started contracting with the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service.
That was six years ago, and he hasn't looked back.
"It is completely unpredictable what we will encounter on a shift," he said.
"Which is why I love my job. Every day is absolutely different."
In his role as the senior air crewman, Mr Norton is responsible for assisting the pilot, navigation and winching.
"90 per cent of the time the air crewman is in the front left seat. We assist the pilot, set up the navigational GPS, we help with the checks of the aircraft and basically get us to the scene navigating," he said.
"Once we get to the scene we can then hop into the back and operate the winch and we can either do that airborne or land and hop in the back and configure the winch.
"There are quite a few roles the air crewman does, in the front and in the rear of the aircraft.
"We control the winch but most of our job is done in the cockpit, assisting the pilot and getting from A to B."
Coming to the team in Rockhampton, Mr Norton said his previous career in the military has prepared him well for his work with RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service.
"The training in the defence force before I got to this role was very intense, you are tested to a high level and are put through your paces under pressure, so definitely having that background and training helps immensely in this role," he said.
For Mr Norton, the best part of the job is being able to help people at their time of need.
"It is always good to catch up with people after you have gotten them back to safety," he said.
"From time to time people will drop back in to the hangar, which is quite nice.
"Some people do come back and say g'day and it is really good to see them fit and healthy again."
Dave Paterson - Air Crewman:
LIKE Patrick, Dave Paterson transitioned from the military to the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service.
He had been a military man for 16 years when he decided to make the transition into a 'civilian role' as he calls it.
"The first 10 or so of that (military) was refuelling aircraft," he said.
"Then six and a half odd years as an air crewman or a load master on Black Hawk helicopters.
"Along with that, and my time at RACQ Helicopter Rescue service for the seven and a bit years, I have pretty much spent my entire adult life around helicopters.
"It was my military experience that brought me to this role and it was pretty much a no-brainer to transition from the military side of things to a civilian role."
Like his colleague Patrick Norton, Mr Paterson said his time with the military prepared him for this role better than anything else could have.
"We come from high-pressure backgrounds," he said.
"It is never easy seeing people that are in such a bad state and in so much need at times is really heart wrenching and sometimes you can relate it to yourself and your own family.
"It is hard to swallow sometimes.
"But we take it day by day and each day is a new one, so we put that last one behind us and just look forward to the next job and to helping somebody else."
While the work they do may be stressful, and at times emotionally and mentally draining, Mr Paterson says the reward outweighs everything else.
"It is very rewarding to know that your help was possibly the only opportunity that those people had, either to continue life or get them to help a lot sooner," he said.
"We do a lot of jobs offshore, and some of those people just would not have been helped without this service.
"A lot of the jobs out west are not accessible to the fixed wing aircraft and they are so remote it takes a long time for road vehicles of ambulance to get there, so it is a very vital service and we appreciate that.
"It is good to know we can get to people when they are in their time of need."
Mitch Vernon - Senior Pilot:
BEING a pilot with the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service, Mitch Vernon has seen most of Central Queensland from a bird's-eye view.
He loves the unknown aspect of the job. That he never knows where the day will take him when he clocks on at 8am.
His years of experience flying helicopters all over the world means he is well up to the task required of him as a rescue helicopter pilot.
"I started here in 2013," he said.
"I was living in Rockhampton and working overseas at the time and a good job like this one came up in Rockhampton and I jumped at the opportunity.
"I was in the original assistance mission to the Solomon Islands which was the police tasking and air ambulance tasking for the Australian Federal Police support for the Solomon Islands.
"Before that I was doing emergency medical in Saudi Arabia."
While his role doesn't see him on the winch, lifting people to safety, Mr Vernon's job is as important as every other member of his team.
He, like his colleagues, says there a some jobs that are hard to forget.
"There are some jobs that stand out more than others," he said.
"The Australia Day rescue in 2014, there was a family in an upturned boat near Keppel Island and we managed to winch rescue them all.
"There is another winch rescue of a woman who fell down a cliff at Virgin Rock near Springsure and she was hanging off a couple of branches in the rock face."
For Mr Vernon, one of the best aspects working for RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service is the constant support from the wider community.
"When I first came to the organisation I was very surprised by the amount of community support and engagement we have," he said.
"Having worked in other ambulance systems where it is all funded by the government, you don't have that kind of support and I was surprised by how extensive it is."
Derek Tessmann - Base Chief Engineer and Joe Chandler - Engineer:
FOR engineers Derek Tessmann and Joe Chandler, working for an organisation that offers an invaluable service to the community is all the motivation they need to get up every day.
With the nature of the job meaning an aircraft needs to be available at any given moment, Mr Tessmann and Mr Chandler are constantly maintaining the condition of the aircraft to keep them in their best possible condition.
"I'm on call for the aircraft 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Mr Tessmann said.
"This service has one of the highest availability records on the east coast, which is pretty good."
For Mr Chandler, shadowing and being trained by someone with as much experience as Mr Tessmann is an excellent opportunity to learn as much about helicopters as possible.
"It's a great job, the company is good to work for," he said.
"At the moment I am being trained up to be able to certify for maintenance, that's the big difference.
"He (Mr Tessmann) can certify for maintenance and say the helicopter is right to fly after something has been done to it."
After nine years with the service, Mr Tessmann says he is lucky to be able to do something that makes a difference in the community.
"It is a rewarding job," he said.
"I've enjoyed it and what we say here is we are believers, we believe in what we are doing, and we believe we are making a difference.
"That is probably the most rewarding part.
"There are not too many jobs in our industry that you have the rewarding part of the day."
FAST FACTS: RACQ CAPRICORN HELICOPTER RESCUE SERVICE
- IN THE 23 years since the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service started operating it has conducted more than 7360 rescues and saved countless lives.
- The world-class aerial search and rescue service has been operational since January 26, 1996, and covers a total area of 350,000km2.
- Operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter service is operational across the whole of Central Queensland.
- The average response time for the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue Service is 10 minutes. It takes a little bit longer at night because there is more planning involved in a rescue when it is dark.
- From Yeppoon and Rockhampton they cover the area north to St Lawrence, west to Alpha, East off the Capricorn Coast for approximately 110 nautical miles, and south to Agnes Water and Gladstone.
- Averaging more than one rescue a day the team, consisting of four pilots, two rescue crewman, four air crewman and two engineers, are specially trained to conduct the rescue missions.
- The helicopter used by RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Rescue is a Bell 412EP. It is an American enhanced twin engine machine that is equipped with a dual digital automatic flight control system.
- The helicopter can be configured to have five seating and one stretcher positions or three seating and two stretcher positions.
- The maximum range without refuelling for the helicopter is up to 200 nautical miles.
- The normal cruise speed (without the winch fitted) is up to 125 knots.
- The Capricorn Rescue branch were the first to advocate for twin-engine aircraft; the first to have Instrument Flight Rules; and they were the first to implement Night Vision Goggles.
- Almost half of the funding for the service comes from the Queensland Government, the majority of funding comes from partnerships and contributions from the local community, organisations, donations and events.
If you want to know more about the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter Service visit there website here.