LifeFlight Engineering has created a purpose-built Animal Rescue Capsule (ARC), which can be used to rescue, winch and transport pets securely from life-threatening situations, such as floods.
The ARC was invented as part of the multi-agency emergency response to catastrophic flood events across Queensland and Northern New South Wales (NSW) in 2022. Crews directly assisted more than 100 people, indirectly assisted many more and saved 22 dogs from flooded properties.
In the past and during the disasters from early 2022, equipment bags and Child Rescue Capsules were often used to execute animal winch rescues, but they were not an ideal or permanent solution.
LifeFlight Aircraft Safety Equipment Engineer Simon Jamieson said that there were several unique safety aspects to consider when creating an animal capsule: “With the animal rescue bag, one of the benefits that we’ve got there is it is designed specifically for the animals.”
While animal winch equipment already existed for military working dogs (MWD), the noises and altitude changes during a helicopter mission can be extremely nerve-wracking for stressed, domestic pets.
With operational feedback from the crews, Jamieson was working on refining the first version of the capsule when LifeFlight helicopters were again tasked to floodwater rescues. Rescue Crew Officer and Flight Paramedic Brad Solomon said using the prototype of the capsule in the NSW Central West floods helped crews save more than 13 dogs, two cats and a turtle, along with their owners, from near-death situations.
The now-refined version of the ARC can be re-used for back-to-back rescues, can be collapsed to make it compact for winching down to a scene, is reinforced to accommodate pets weighing up to 50kg, and has drainage holes to allow water to escape when animals are scooped directly from flood water.
“We engaged with several different experts along the way, including veterinary specialists as well as our own internal team – such as equipment designers, aircrew officers and pilots – to make sure that we could do this safely,” said Group Head of Operations Yvette Lutze.
The ARC also features ventilated mesh at the top so the animal inside can look directly up at their rescuer to minimize stress and anxiety. “You don’t want the animal to stress during the winch, so we wanted to create something more specialised to domestic pet rescues,” Jamieson said.
RACQ LifeFlight served 6,978 patients in 2022, breaking previous records, with cardiac and chest pain listed as the most common category of callout in Queensland.