A fire and police officer work at the scene of the tragic helicopter crash in Marlborough 20 years ago. Picture: FILE
A fire and police officer work at the scene of the tragic helicopter crash in Marlborough 20 years ago. Picture: FILE

‘Terrible tragedy’: Looking back on dark day in CQ history

ROCKHAMPTON'S Brad Miers will never forget the tragic helicopter crash in Marlborough 20 years ago that claimed the lives of five people, two of which were "close friends".

In the early hours of July 24, 2000, two ambulance officers, a pilot, a patient and a family escort were sadly lost when a RACQ Capricorn Rescue unit crashed while attempting to land in thick fog.

Ambulance Officer Douglas John "Bill" Birch and Intensive Care Paramedic Craig Staines boarded the helicopter with Pilot Paddy O'Brien, which was en route to a cattle station 200kms west of Rockhampton.

Five-year-old Anthony Sherry was suffering from croup and required airlifting to Rockhampton Hospital along with his mum, Susan.

As the visibility worsened with thick fog blanketing the region, the decision was made to land at Marlborough so Anthony could be taken to hospital by road in an ambulance.

Tragically, all on board were killed when the single engine helicopter crashed on the descent to land.

 

QAS Senior Operations Supervisor Brad Miers. Picture: Allan Reinikka
QAS Senior Operations Supervisor Brad Miers. Picture: Allan Reinikka

 

Mr Miers, who is a Senior Operations Supervisor with Queensland Ambulance Service, said he was working as a critical care paramedic student at the time and had to attend the scene.

He described it as a terrible tragedy that brought all emergency services personnel closer together.

"Not a day goes by where you don't think about the colleagues you lost in that tragic event," he said.

"It was an incredible, emotional experience for all family, friends and colleagues of the five people that were killed in that disaster.

"It was a huge tragedy, but one that brought us very close together as paramedics and emergency services personnel.

"Not too many people throughout Central Queensland did not know about the officers and the support we got from the community was overwhelming."

 

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He said he lost two "great friends" that fateful day.

"Bill Birch was one of the older paramedics at the time and he was a sounding board for the other paramedics," he said.

"He was trustworthy, and kind and you knew he had your back.

"Craig Staines was a great mate. He was an incredibly intelligent man who had the world at his feet in the Queensland Ambulance Service.

"Both officers were great friends to all paramedics and are sorely missed."

Mr Miers will meet with friends today to pay their respects and remember those dedicated officers who paid the ultimate price to save others.

 

RACQ Capricorn Rescue service will also remember the lives lost on July 24, 2000. Picture: Contributed
RACQ Capricorn Rescue service will also remember the lives lost on July 24, 2000. Picture: Contributed

 

RACQ Capricorn Rescue service will today remember the lives of those onboard but also reflect on the community spirit that embraced the service and pulled it through the toughest of times to influence change within the aviation industry globally.

"With the constant and unfailing support of our community, from inception to today, RACQ Capricorn Rescue has been involved in and pioneered many changes within both Queensland's Emergency Service Response team and the aviation industry over the past 20 years," CEO Mark Fewtrell said.

"Constant support and commitment from our board of directors ensures that today RACQ Capricorn Rescue operates under the safest and most efficient model available.

"We deliver a world class, dedicated aerial search and rescue service with full aeromedical and counter disaster capabilities free of charge to the residents of Queensland."

Since inception, RACQ Capricorn Rescue has performed more than 7500 rescues and saved more than 7000 lives, with the service available to those in need 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.