Partnering for 'epic' high-risk patient transfer

Learjet air ambulances from Fox Flight and Awesome Air Evac meet on the tarmac in Tenerife to transfer a high-risk patient bound for Kansas City, US
A high-risk, ventilated patient was flown from Johannesburg to Kansas City in an eight-leg, two-provider mission, as Frank Condron, Fox Flight public relations officer, explains
Fox Flight Air Ambulance, a Toronto, Canada-based international medical repatriation company, recently partnered with Johannesburg, South Africa-based Awesome Air Evac to complete an epic 9,680-mile wing-to-wing patient transfer. The mission, which originated in Johannesburg, saw the two air ambulance operators combine to complete a journey made up of eight individual flight legs touching down in six different countries before terminating some 22 hours later in Kansas City, Missouri, US. The incredible logistical challenges of the transfer were compounded by the fact the patient was categorised as high-risk, requiring oxygen ventilation throughout.
“We specialise in international patient transfer, so we’re no strangers to long flights, but this mission was especially complicated,” said Aaron Payne, director of communications for Fox Flight. “We had to work closely with Awesome Air Evac to make sure the handover in Tenerife was smooth. And both dispatch teams had to arrange landing, customs and refuelling at airports in various jurisdictions at various times around the clock to keep the transfer moving. Due to the patient’s condition, we couldn’t afford to have any delays along the way.” In addition to two pilots on each of the Learjet air ambulances, the patient was accompanied by a physician and a critical care nurse or paramedic on every leg of the journey, added Payne.
For Awesome Air Evac, which celebrated its first anniversary in business this past July, it was the company’s first wing-to-wing patient transfer. “In order to complete a complex mission like this, you have to have complete confidence in your wing-to-wing partner,” said Shane Marais, general manager of Awesome Air Evac. “The fact we were able to combine our resources to complete this mission is a testament to the skill and professionalism of both organisations.”
The Awesome Air Evac jet departed from Johannesburg on the first leg of the transfer at around 02:30 hrs local time. The plane made its first refuelling stop about three and half hours later in Luanda, Angola. After about 30 minutes on the ground, the crew took off on the second leg to Accra, Ghana.
From Accra, the Awesome Air Evac Lear made a stopover in Dakar, Senegal, before heading to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for its rendezvous with the Fox Flight air crew and medical team. As soon as the patient was safely transferred, the Fox Flight air ambulance took off on the first leg of its journey, and the fifth in the transfer, to the Azores in the central Atlantic. After refuelling there, the Fox Flight crew proceeded to St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. Leg seven of the journey took the Fox Flight crew back for a brief stopover at their home base in Toronto. The final leg, number eight in total, took the patient from Toronto to Kansas City, where they were transferred to a local hospital. The Fox Flight jet touched down in Kansas City at about 02:00 hrs local time, which caused some logistical problems for the company dispatcher. “We had to contact US Customs and make special arrangements to land at that time and process all the required paperwork, but there was no other way to do it,” said Payne. 


Frank Condron is a Toronto-based professional writer, editor and communications specialist. His work has appeared in newspapers and magazines and on digital channels in Canada and the US and he has been recognised by the Editors’ Association of Canada. He has also produced custom publications and corporate communications materials for numerous public and private companies.