Marathon Effort to Winch Critically Ill Tourist from Cruise Ship

In a marathon mission, RACQ CQ Rescue has flown more than 1200km over 10 hours to winch a critically ill tourist from a cruise ship and transfer them to Townsville Hospital.

The 71-year-old Brisbane woman was a passenger on the Princess Cruises’ ship Sea Princess, which was on the final leg of a 14-day voyage and headed back to Brisbane with 1998 passengers on board.

 The Mackay-based rescue helicopter departed base on Saturday about midday to fly more than 250km north to retrieve the passenger who was unconscious and believed to be suffering a serious brain bleed.

The helicopter met the 261-metre long vessel when it was still 40 minutes and 138km north-east of Hamilton Island and due to weight restrictions, had to winch the doctor, Critical Care Paramedic and rescue crewman down onto the deck of the ship. 

The helicopter then returned to Hamilton Island to refuel as the doctor and paramedic assessed and intubated the patient and readied her for flight.

Upon the aircraft’s returned to the vessel, the doctor was winched up with the rescue crewman, followed by the unconscious patient in a 406 stretcher accompanied by the paramedic, followed lastly again by the rescue crewman. The winch of all four people off the ship took about 20 minutes.

RACQ CQ Rescue then had to refuel again at Hamilton Island before flying the patient to Townsville Hospital in a critical condition, arriving about 6pm.

RACQ CQ Rescue air crewman Quinton Rethus described the retrieval effort as a “marathon” as the vessel was such a long way out and beyond the reef. Although very time consuming, the rescue helicopter crew were lucky the weather conditions were favourable and there was limited cloud and wind, he said.

Given the distance offshore, the Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre (JRCC), a division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, also arranged a local helicopter to provide overhead cover for RACQ CQ Rescue as the patient was retrieved from the ship.

RACQ CQ Rescue returned to base at 10pm only to be tasked again to fly to Clermont at 11.30pm to transfer a patient to Mackay Base Hospital.