Station hand with snake bite waits through the night because of landing strip red tape

Station hand with snake bite forced to wait through the night because of landing strip red tape

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NT pastoralists say a station hand suffering snake bite had to wait until daylight before emergency services would respond. Picture: CareFlight.

NT pastoralists say a station hand suffering snake bite had to wait until daylight before emergency services would respond. Picture: CareFlight.

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A recent emergency near Katherine where a station worker was bitten by a snake has uncovered problems using outback landing strips at night.

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A recent emergency near Katherine where a station worker was bitten by a snake has uncovered problems using outback landing strips at night.

Graziers want CareFlight to reinstate its night-time landing airstrip assessments so rescue services can respond to emergencies day or night.

CareFlight has stopped completing the assessments due to 'capacity' while the Royal Flying Doctor Service, which operates in the southern region, does complete assessments for nighttime landing, according to the Northern Territory Cattlemen's Association.

The station worker had to be nursed through the night by fellow workers after the snake bite because CareFlight would not land at the cattle station near Katherine.

The station worker was not airlifted until sunrise, the association says.

NTCA chief executive Ashley Manicaros said the snake bite incident had brought the issue to a head.

CareFlight responded by saying it was a charity with limited funds and limited numbers of pilots.

The CareFlight spokesman said it had been working with some stations to do their own independent airstrip assessments.

"We provide more than a million dollars towards the operational cost of Top End Medical Rescue helicopter for the benefit of all Territorians in the Top End," the spokesman said.

"We also provide free Medisim trauma care training for Territorians to prepare them to act as first responders in a trauma situation and assist sick kids in the bush.

CareFlight want pastoralists to join its campaign for a second Top End medical retrieval helicopter. Picture: CareFlight.

CareFlight want pastoralists to join its campaign for a second Top End medical retrieval helicopter. Picture: CareFlight.

"The independent assessment ensures all users can access and use the assessment outcomes. With current shortages of pilots across the industry it is critical that our pilots focus on their core mission of saving lives."

The organisation said its rescue helicopter can access patients where an airstrip is not available.

CareFlight suggested the NTCA join its campaign to have a second rescue helicopter stationed in the Top End.

But the NTCA said a single independent assessment could cost almost $5000.

Mr Manicaros said pastoral properties in the Northern aeromedical region being serviced by CareFlight were being disadvantaged.

"NTCA members do not understand how a contract valued at $28 million per annum is unable to complete these assessments when the RFDS can, and they will do it for free," Mr Manicaros said.

"RFDS have also said that an independent survey is not mandatory for night operations at this point in time, but that the RFDS will request an independent survey if required.

"The only major benefit of having a third party provide an assessment and certification is that any aircraft may land on a property," he said.

"The main priority of members in the northern region is to ensure that emergency services can land day or night and at this point, according to the Top End Medical Services only two pastoral properties meet that requirement."

"For a 10-year, $280 million contract we do not see how, in the interests of regional safety, assessments cannot be included whether they are a contract requirement or not.

"We are not talking about a huge amount of money. Even if they only did 20 we are talking about $100,000 cost out of $28 million. They clearly did do it previously but then made a commercial decision to save money at the expense of pastoralists."

"Part of the issue is that when the original contract for the service was awarded it required the use of the twin-engine King Air.

"This is a heavier plane, requires a 1300m airstrip and costs 25 per cent more to operate than the Pilatus PC-12 which is used by the RFDS and only requires 1100m to land."

The story Station hand with snake bite waits through the night because of landing strip red tape first appeared on Katherine Times.

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