Insight into the operational side of an emergency medical evacuation at Davis station.

Medical evacuation at Davis

Early in the morning of Thursday 19 March, the Aurora Australis, then on its way home to Hobart having only recently left Davis, was tasked with returning to the station to retrieve a member of the winter expedition team who had become seriously ill following the ship’s departure.

In the intervening period, the task of providing medical care to the expeditioner had been the responsibility of the station doctor and four lay surgical assistants, all of whom conducted themselves throughout with remarkable professionalism. Assisting them were the remainder of the station team who undertook a number of support roles including establishing a patient transfer team, developing rosters and operational plans, receiving helicopters, preparing plant and refuelling equipment, preparing quality food to sustain the team and supporting general maintenance and function of station infrastructure.

The ship arrived off Davis at midday on Saturday 21 March with both ship and station promptly implementing their response plan. A team comprising of a doctor, forecaster and technician from the Bureau of Meteorology, refuelling supervisor, air ground support officer and a helicopter engineer were brought to station by helicopter to temporarily boost station capacity during the operation.

Whilst initial planning had involved the use of a barge to convey fuel to the ship from station, the condition of the sea ice off Davis station compelled the team to utilise a helicopter to drag a tow rope ashore. The tow rope was skillfully put into place by the helicopter pilot, guided in by an air ground support officer. The rope was then attached to the fuel line and this was subsequently pulled ashore by work teams on the station. After setup and testing of the fuel line, fuel began flowing to the ship at 0130. Expeditioners then began an overnight roster of refuel monitoring to top up the tanks of the ship. The weather remained accommodating, at a fairly constant −10°C and only five knots of wind.

Once the refuelling was complete, the team tasked with the transfer of the patient from the Davis medical facility to the helipad undertook the transport as they had rehearsed a number of times during the previous days, accompanied by a doctor and lay surgical assistant from the ship.

Once safely aboard the helicopter, the patient was flown to the ship where they were expertly transferred to the ship’s medical facilities and made as comfortable as possible, and where they remain in a serious but stable condition now returning to Hobart.

The expeditioners on station then had the task of hauling in the 1.4 km fuel line and 1.6 km rope to be stored here for the year until they are picked up on the return voyage later in the season.

The Davis winter expeditioners want to send their best wishes and thoughts to their colleague who is returning home and wish them all the best for their recovery. Our thanks to voyage management and crew aboard the Aurora Australis for their timely and professional response, and expeditioners both on the ship and at Davis for their commitment to the task.