“De Beers and Netcare 911 – New long range helicopter set to save lives”
South Africans in distress to benefit from important new partnership
Thursday, 30 June 2011 When Nicky Oppenheimer’s AgustaWestland 139 helicopter was used to evacuate a seriously injured woman from a farm in Limpopo province, a new idea was born that would greatly benefit South Africans in distress.
The idea, which ensures that South Africans in the remotest regions of the country will have access to an emergency helicopter service without equal, is the brainchild of Oppenheimer, Chairman of De Beers and an intrepid young doctor, Dr Anchen Laubscher, Medical Director of Netcare 911. Dr Laubscher, who was a flying doctor at the time, served on the mission to assist and evacuate the seriously injured patient to Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg. It was during this flight that she noted the considerable capabilities of the AgustaWestland helicopter.
The passionate young healthcare professional could not help but express her enthusiasm for the aircraft and its remarkable capabilities when it comes to saving lives. She found a receptive ear in the philanthropic businessman who did not hesitate to make his long-ranged twin-engined helicopter available. Oppenheimer went a step further by reconfiguring the aircraft so that it could transport three patients and a medical team of eight.
Commenting on the initiative Oppenheimer said that he wanted to find a way to contribute to the country and its people. “I discussed the importance of doing something worthwhile with Netcare 911 that would benefit all South Africans. We thought that a long-range service, which could evacuate patients from remote areas would make a tangible difference when it comes to saving lives,” says Oppenheimer. “We agreed to develop such a service jointly using the AW 139 and the medical expertise of Netcare 911. I am tremendously excited that the helicopter can now be used for the greater good of all South Africans in medical emergencies.”
The project, which was launched in Johannesburg yesterday, is expected to make emergency medical services more accessible to many South Africans in dire need. According to Dr Laubscher South Africa is a vast country and long distances, bad weather and difficult landing conditions are more often than not the order of the day during major medical emergencies.
She observes that the long ranged AgustaWestland 139 allows patients to be transported from further afield than was previously possible and therefore greatly enhances the capabilities of the Netcare 911 helicopter emergency service (HEMS).
“In addition to its long range, the AW 139 is equipped to be able to fly using its instruments at night and in inclement weather,” she notes. “This means that we now have a supreme tool that can be used to evacuate patients in bad weather be it night or day. When it comes to saving lives this is a considerable advantage.”
Captain Evert de Wet, one of the pilots of the helicopter, notes that the AW 139 has other advantages over EMS helicopters that are currently in service. Its large interior, for example, allows it to transport three patients while other helicopters can only transport one. It will therefore be very useful in situations where more than one patient needs to be transported at a time. It can also carry a full medical support team, which can reach a disaster area in record time.
Dr Laubscher adds that Netcare 911’s helicopters are traditionally crewed by a doctor and paramedic. The AW 139’s considerable crew capacity will allow Netcare 911 much more flexibility when assembling the crew it needs for any particular mission. For example, a medical specialist can be included in the crew if the patient has special medical requirements.
“We are grateful to Mr Oppenheimer for making his helicopter available to Netcare 911, so that we are able to enhance our capabilities in saving lives,” continues Laubscher. “He had the aircraft equipped with a state of the art three stretcher pod at considerable personal expense making it the only helicopter of its kind in the country.”
“The world class service that we are providing is available to all South Africans who can access it via the Netcare 911 Call Centre on 082 911,” she notes. “The helicopter is superbly equipped. It will be used in deserving circumstances and when it is not feasible to use another form of transportation. It may, for example, be used when emergency response vehicles are too far away from a patient to be able to be deployed and where there is no landing strip available for a fixed wing aircraft. Although Netcare 911’s HEMS service is a 24-hour operation it is at times hampered by poor weather conditions and bad light.”
Captain de Wet, says that, unlike the helicopters Netcare 911 currently employ, the AW 139 will not be a first response helicopter. He points out that it takes around two hours to prepare the machine into its medical configuration – too long for situations that require very fast response times. These tasks will be left for the other smaller, more nimble Netcare 911 EMS helicopters, which are presently in service offering a day and night in Gauteng and a daytime service only in KwaZulu-Natal.
However, the AW 139 fills the vital gap, which exists for medical evacuations from more remote regions or where bad weather conditions are making patient recovery by any other means impractical.
The Civil Aviation Authority gave approval for the project after the helicopter, pilots and crew met with stringent aviation and safety criteria. Six pilots of Anglo American Aviation have been trained to pilot the helicopter during medical operations. This training included CPR, infection control and the rendering of assistance during emergencies. Netcare 911 HEMS doctors and paramedics will be used to provide the medical assistance on the flights.
The six pilots have been practicing to familiarise themselves with landing at ten hospitals that are most frequently used for medical emergencies in Gauteng. They are also commencing with night training exercises over the next few weeks.
Nicky Oppenheimer’s AW 139 was purchased in Italy and flown down to Johannesburg through Africa in September 2006. Oppenheimer expressed a desire for it to be ‘Africanised’ soon after and commissioned artist Pippa Skotnes to suitably decorate it. It is beautifully adorned with the images of a dream of a Bushman spirit, which illustrates its proudly South African origins.
“Netcare 911 is honoured to offer emergency services to more South Africans through this partnership with Mr Nicky Oppenheimer,” concludes Dr Laubscher. “A gap has existed in this area for some time now and we are finally able to fill it with his help.”