LIFE SAVER: Dr Koert Jan Schonewille on his way to save two men who were seriously injured off the coast of Rockhampton.
LIFE SAVER: Dr Koert Jan Schonewille on his way to save two men who were seriously injured off the coast of Rockhampton. Courtesy RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

LifeFlight doctor's daring double winch off cargo ship

TWO men with severe injuries after a 14m plummet down a ship's cargo hold.

One with broken ribs, pelvis, fractured femur, ruptured diaphragm and splenic bleed; the other with a fractured vertebrae in his spine.

For LifeFlight Doctor Koert Jan Schonewille, this was the reality facing him as he prepared for his first ever offshore winch rescue, on board the cargo ship Shanghai Spirit, 32 nautical miles (65 km) off the coast of Rockhampton.

Despite notching up seven years' air-medical experience on board LifeFlight and other air-medical helicopters across Queensland, the 40-year-old doctor says this mission was his most 'challenging' to date.

On January 30, the LifeFlight Doctor and the team on board the RACQ Capricorn helicopter flew to help the Chinese nationals who were painting the walls of the ship's cargo hold when the scaffolding gave way.

They fell 14m and the heavy scaffolding came crashing down on top of them.

Two men who were seriously injured on board a cargo ship being treated thanks to the efforts of LifeFlight
Two men who were seriously injured on board a cargo ship being treated thanks to the efforts of LifeFlight Courtesy RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

The men, both aged 42, had been retrieved from the lower deck by the ship's staff when the helicopter arrived.

Twenty minutes after leaving the Rockhampton base, Dr Schonewille was hovering 30 metres above the ship's deck.

Dr Schonewille was lowered from the hovering helicopter, suspended on a thin wire 30m in the air alongside a Capricorn Rescue crew member - ocean as far as the eye could see.

"Their injuries were very severe,” Dr Schonewille said.

"I'd only been involved in four winch rescues previously, but they were all in dense rainforest or bushland. This was something completely different.”

While being stabilised, the patient was flown to Rockhampton Hospital for emergency surgery.

But the mission didn't end there.

Dr Koert Jan Schonewille in the sky
Dr Koert Jan Schonewille in the sky Courtesy RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

They had to fly the 20 minutes back to the ship to airlift the second patient.

With only one vacuum mattress on board, Dr Schonewille fashioned a makeshift mattress from pillows and blankets on board the boat to keep the patient steady and their spine supported during the winch.

He calls it his 'MacGyver moment' - and by this time, the crew was now racing against the fading light.

Thanks to the skill of all involved, the crew arrived with minutes to spare, delivering the patient to hospital for further treatment.

RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper.
RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper. Courtesy RACQ LifeFlight Rescue

"Both patients are now in a stable condition, which is a very satisfying outcome for me,” he said.

Dr Schonewille has worked as a LifeFlight Doctor since 2009 on board the LifeFlight helicopters on the Gold Coast, Toowoomba and Brisbane, the LifeFlight Lear Jet in Townsville and the RACQ Capricorn Helicopter in Rockhampton.

"Being a LifeFlight Doctor is my dream job,” he said.



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