THE smell of Avgas and the chance to muck around with helicopters ... it's the most fun a couple of blokes can have. Especially when there is the satisfaction of helping run a life-saving community organisation.
Yet there has also been frustration and a lot of hard work keeping the Sunshine Coast's own rescue helicopter service in the air.
Now business identities and property developers Don Moffatt and Bill Freeman have been acknowledged for more than 40 years combined service to RACQ LifeFlight.
Both in their 70s, they are among the last links to the founders of the original rescue helicopter service and decided to step down from the board last year.
Formed on the Sunshine Coast in 1979, the vital air rescue organisation has operated under a variety of names in its time, depending on the major sponsors.
As such it is the first of its kind in Australia ... a ground-breaking operation that covers thousands of miles each year on vital missions.
The presentation of model AW139 Rescue Helicopters at RACQ Lifeflight North Coast's hangar at Sunshine Coast Airport were to honour the former helicopter pilot and the land developer for their service to the Sunshine Coast and south-east Queensland.
Don Moffatt is a former Australian Army helicopter pilot and a successful Sunshine Coast property developer who also served for 16 years on the Sunshine Coast Turf Club Committee and was Sunshine Coast Tourism chairman for seven years.
Bill Freeman is a Sunshine Coast surveyor, developer and long-time supporter of LifeFlight.
For more than 40 years he has been involved with developing numerous community and sporting groups on the Sunshine Coast and supporting surf lifesaving.
The presentation was to recognise their roles as true leaders of LifeFlight Rescue Helicopter and unsung heroes of the community.
Local businessman Des Scanlan, alongside others such as Roy Thompson and heads of emergency services helped establish Sunshine Coast Helicopter Rescue Service Ltd in 1979 with the purchase of a single helicopter; a Bell 206 Jetranger, and operated from a base at the Big Cow on the highway at Yandina.
In 1983, the base was moved to Maroochydore Airport, now the Sunshine Coast Airport.
In 2016-17 the Sunshine Coast-based RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter flew 515 lifesaving missions, costing $6.5million. This involved everything from cardiac conditions to motor vehicle accidents and search missions.
In the past 36 years LifeFlight has made a difference to the lives of thousands of people, having flown 49,000 critical rescue missions.
The Sunshine Coast crew covered 17 council regions across Queensland in 2016/17, from Brisbane to Bundaberg, from the Fraser Coast to Toowoomba, the South Burnett and Western Downs.
Flying helicopters has always been Don Moffatt's passion, right from Army service and training in Vietnam.
His involvement with Careflight/Lifeflight has not only been a way to give back to the community but has also kept him close to his passion of flying.
At the LifeFlight presentation he paid tribute to Des Scanlan and Roy Thompson for initially getting the service off the ground.
"They were there at the beginning,” he said.
"Two or three years into its existence the Gold Coast said they wanted one too.
"Those two organised the first helicopters for the Gold Coast and went guarantors.
"The rescue helicopters in Queensland owe their existence to those two blokes.
"The Sunshine Coast was the first helicopter rescue service in Australia and that is something we can be proud of.”
As for Bill Freeman, he said that throughout the years there had been a variety of name changes due to the various sponsors.
From 1979 onwards sponsorship came either directly or indirectly from the Bank of NSW and its successor, the Westpac Banking Corporation (now Westpac).
Energy distribution corporation Energex, then known as the South East Queensland Electricity Board (SEQEB), started sponsorship in 1994 and would be renamed Energex Community Rescue Helicopter in 1998 following SEQEB's name change.
"Our involvement spans many years,” Mr Freeman said.
"Its been interesting, frustrating and at times you swear like hell.
"Ultimately, it's important to say that in that period there been no lives lost through the movement.
"Its been fun, a great journey.
"And I remind you all, life is not a dress rehearsal.”
TOP 5 SUNSHINE COAST PATIENT INJURY AND ILLNESS TYPES:
94 Cardiac conditions;
88 Motor vehicle and motor cycle accidents (on and off road, quad bike and pedestrian);
33 Falls (animal, bushwalking/climbing, elderly, medical, other);
30 Stroke/neurological conditions;
25 Search missions.
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