Aeromedical operations

Netcare 911’s dedicated fleet of state-of-the-art ICU air ambulances provide a critically important service to patients in South Africa, across the African continent and surrounding islands as well as internationally, in cases where prompt evacuation and specialised life-saving pre-hospital emergency medical care may mean the difference between survival and death.

Helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS)

International research has shown that the appropriate deployment of EMS helicopters has a positive effect on patient outcomes and, as such, their use has been adopted worldwide as a valuable instrument in saving lives.* (reference)

Netcare 911 subscribes to an internationally accepted set of flight authorisation criteria that govern Netcare 911 HEMS activation and utilisation. The criteria determine when the use of a helicopter is warranted, and which patients will benefit the most from being airlifted.

Netcare 911’s helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) currently operates two dedicated, permanently configured and ICU equipped Bell 222 twin engine helicopter air ambulances. Located at Rand Airport in Gauteng, this is the only helicopter emergency medical service in South Africa operating 24 hours a day, ensuring that an emergency care practitioner-based helicopter service is available for immediate dispatch as a primary resource to life-threatening emergencies at all times. The Bell 222 helicopter has excellent prowess in terms of flight range and speed, to rapidly bring lifesaving equipment and care to patients most in need thereof. This service is also available to expedite inter-facility transfers of critically ill and injured patients.

Furthermore, Netcare 911 has access to an Augusta 139 helicopter with a three-stretcher patient configuration, which can be activated within 90 minutes for long distance multi-patient inter-facility transfers. Netcare 911 also has service provider agreements with independent helicopter operators in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western and Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and the North West province.

All of Netcare 911’s helicopter ambulance services are efficiently coordinated through a single-source, end-to-end dedicated flight operations centre based within Netcare 911’s national emergency operations centre in Midrand, Gauteng.

Medical evacuation by helicopter ambulance helped save life of critically injured teenager

15-year-old Carmen Grobler was critically injured in a fall of some 15 metres after a zipline at an adventure park snapped near Hartbeespoort dam. Because of the rough terrain, local paramedics called to the scene could only reach her after some 20 minutes and determined that she was in a very unstable condition with multiple traumatic injuries.

Carmen’s best hope of survival was to be evacuated by air to a hospital with a top trauma unit, and Netcare 911’s aeromedical division was called for assistance. The advanced life support paramedics manning the ICU equipped helicopter ambulance used to airlift Carmen, had their hands full in their efforts to stabilise her, as her condition continued to deteriorate. The paramedics had to resuscitate her twice after she suffered cardiac arrest during the flight to Netcare Milpark Hospital, where she underwent a number of surgical procedures in an effort to save her life and was admitted to the trauma ICU.

Carmen’s survival probability was calculated to be only 16 percent. “If you look at the medical facts her survival is a miracle. It was not just the technology at the hospital that saved her but everyone – paramedics, specialists and nursing staff – working together,” said Carmen’s mother.

Netcare 911’s aeromedical service emergency care practitioners, Adrian King (left) and Jared Mc Dowall (right), checking in on Carmen Botha in Netcare Milpark Hospital. King and Mc Dowall were part of the Netcare 1 helicopter crew that airlifted Carmen to hospital.

Netcare 911 operates the only 24-hour helicopter emergency medical service in SA

Jet air ambulance service

The Netcare 911 jet air ambulance service operates throughout Africa, the islands surrounding the continent, as well as internationally, catering for both short and long range flights. The service can be mobilised within 90 minutes of flight authorisation.

Our dedicated aircraft are custom configured as fully equipped mobile intensive care units, utilising the latest technology and equipment to facilitate effective patient care for optimal outcomes.

Netcare 911’s jet air ambulances are staffed by emergency medicine trained doctors, registered nurses and paramedics. All aeromedical missions are conducted with two pilots who are accredited by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA). These highly experienced pilots are ultimately responsible for ensuring the safety of patients and crew during an evacuation. Every aeromedical mission is managed on its merits, with meticulous scrutiny and medical oversight. In addition to this, quality assurance is conducted by objective and independent external specialist consultants.

Dedicated jet ICU air ambulances serve the African continent and surrounding islands

Netcare 911’s jet air ambulance fleet is comprised of the following, to cater for a range of medical evacuation needs and conditions at the destination:

  • A Hawker HS125-800, ZS-AOA, for either a two-stretcher operation with two medical crew members and one passenger, or a one-stretcher operation with two medical crew members and three passengers. This jet has a 3 700 kilometre range, and can reach a speed of up to 780 kilometres per hour. It can only land on and take off from a runway with a hard surface, and a minimum length of 1 500 metres.
  • A Learjet 55, ZS-ELJ, for either a two-stretcher operation with two medical crew members, or a one-stretcher operation with two medical crew members and one passenger. This jet has a 2 800 kilometre range, and can reach a speed of up to 830 kilometres per hour. Landing and take-off requires a hard surface runway with a minimum length of 1 800 metres.

Netcare 911 also has access to other fixed wing aircraft, should one of our dedicated jets not be available for a flight.  This fleet is comprised of the following aircraft:

  • A Learjet 35, ZS-IGP, for one-stretcher operations accommodating two medical crew members and one passenger. This aircraft has a 2 778 kilometre range, and can reach a speed of up to 750 kilometres per hour. Landing and take-off requires a hard surface runway with a minimum length of 1 600 metres.
  • A Hawker HS125-400, ZS-OIF, for one-stretcher operations accommodating two medical crew members and one passenger. This aircraft has a 3 330 kilometre range, and can reach a speed of up to 750 kilometres per hour. Landing and take-off requires a hard surface runway with a minimum length of 1 600 metres.
  • A Cessna Citation SII, ZS-EDA, for one-stretcher operations accommodating two medical crew members and one passenger. This aircraft has a 2 230 kilometre range, and can reach a speed of up to 720 kilometres per hour. Landing and take-off requires a hard surface runway with a minimum length of 1 200 metres.
SA medical evacuation specialists were baby’s ‘last chance at life’

A South African mercy flight traversing 15 935 kilometres across the airspace of 10 countries into war-torn Yemen, saved the life of a critically ill month-old baby, Yazan Yousif Qade Yazan, who suffered from a life-threatening congenital coarctation of the aorta, which is the narrowing of the large blood vessel branching from the heart.

Yazan was in dire need of heart surgery, but to get to specialists who could treat him, a team of South African medical aviation evacuation specialists had to find a way to safely evacuate him and his mother from Yemen on the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula. Due to the current civil war in the country the little boy could not receive medical care in that country, and medical evacuation services in other countries were not willing to undertake this highly complex mission.

Despite the difficult and dangerous situation, Netcare 911 and its medical aviation partner, Medair, took on the challenge. While Netcare 911 is well placed to undertake mercy flights of this nature, given its highly qualified emergency medical evacuation team, this was clearly a mission with a difference that required meticulous planning and logistical support at every level.

Transporting such a young and critically ill patient is an intricate process in itself, but this case was further complicated by the fact that flight clearances had to be obtained for every country’s airspace that would be traversed during the long flight from and back to South Africa as well as safe timeslots to cross Saudi Arabian airspace. The South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation provided considerable assistance in this mission.

Yazan underwent a successful operation at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg, which has a highly specialised paediatric cardiac unit, and he and his mother were able soon thereafter to return to Yeman.

Mrs Ameera Hussian Aljadbi of Yemen with her baby son, Yazan, and Sister Ina Kok, unit manager of the paediatric cardiac unit at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, after the successful surgery.