Dylan, Sebastian and Madelaine Hart
Sebastian was born in hospital after arriving on a CareFlight with mum Madelaine and dad Dylan. Image by HANDOUT/CAREFLIGHT
  • health

On a wing and a prayer: flying medicos have record year

Stephanie Gardiner February 23, 2024

Madelaine Hart knew childbirth was going to be tough, but she never expected to be in labour in the sky.

Ms Hart, who lives in Galiwin’ku on the Northern Territory’s Elcho Island, suddenly went into labour at 35 weeks pregnant last July, three days before she was due to go to Darwin in preparation for birth.

“I was thinking, ‘oh my God, what am I going to do?'” Ms Hart told AAP.

“I was trying to keep myself calm, I didn’t really process what was happening.”

She scrambled to call her police officer husband, Dylan Hart, who was at work while a midwife at the island’s small medical clinic cared for her until a CareFlight plane arrived.

The Harts were then flown 90 minutes to a hospital in the capital city.

“It was the quickest but longest flight I’ve ever been on,” she said.

“They told me ‘we’re well-equipped to have this baby on the plane’.

“That’s very reassuring, but thank God that didn’t happen.”

Their son Sebastian was born in hospital about two hours after landing in Darwin.

“I know they say you can never have a birth plan, but that was well beyond any type of birth I thought I would have,” Ms Hart said.

The new mother was one of more than 7900 NT patients retrieved by CareFlight last year when the aeromedical service racked up a record 9,600 missions across the country.

The charity’s work across the territory’s 600,000 square kilometres largely involved flying people with life-threatening conditions from remote Indigenous communities to hospital.

Other missions included winching two men to safety after one was severely stung by an Irukandji jellyfish while fishing off Dundee Beach in October.

A CareFlight pilot poses with some of the locals during the mission.
 One CareFlight was sent on a mission to rescue patients stung by jellyfish while out fishing. Image by HANDOUT/CAREFLIGHT 

The Top End service, which runs out of Darwin and Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, works on behalf of the NT government and was granted federal funding to expand its fleet last year.

“We always knew there would be a growing demand for aeromedical services,” NT general manager Jodie Mills said.

“We have had the benefit over the years of increasing our ability to provide higher capacity through communication and coordination with healthcare providers and emergency services across the Northern Territory.”

The record-setting year for national operations included helicopter retrievals in the Sydney region to medical transfers for regional and rural patients.

Ms Hart said while the Galiwin’ku clinic offered excellent care, being able to fly to Darwin quickly was crucial.

“My husband and I were very thankful to the clinic staff and CareFlight and the hospital.

“That we were able to deliver Sebastian in such a safe way was the most important thing.”