Finding love in the skies while saving lives

Date published

29 Nov 2019

For the past 17 years, midwife and flight nurse Justine Powell has been flying to remote communities for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Queensland (RFDS). 

After beginning her career in Rockhampton, she transferred to Brisbane where she met  flight standards pilot, James Williams. 

“We worked together quite a lot over the years and developed a friendship, and then we fell in love. Now, we’re husband and wife,” Justine said. 

“All the while we were in and out of remote communities helping those who needed it.” 

James also remembers the time fondly, “I remember seeing Justine for the first time; it mightn’t have been the conventional way to meet someone, but we became friends and it really grew from there.” 

Justine said it was a privilege for the couple to be there during extreme moments in people’s lives. 

“We transfer a lot of pregnant women and often we’re moving women with twins out of their hometowns at a heightened time for women,” she said. One of Justine’s most memorable callouts was carrying the last newborn out of Cairns during Cyclone Yasi. 

“We were the last aircraft to leave Cairns before they shut the airport,” she said. 

“We were evacuating the special care unit and neonatal unit. We were carrying those small babies out of the hospital to bring them to Brisbane to ensure they could receive the best possible care they needed.” 

“Brisbane is a gateway to many of Queensland’s key tertiary hospitals, so we’re grateful that Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) and Air Traffic Control understand the importance that priority landings play in situations like this,” Justine says. 

In her current role as Manager of Clinical and Base Operations, Justine is responsible for the Brisbane Base, its hangar, engineers and aviators. 

“My true passion is being a flight nurse, and I still get to fly and look after patients while watching over the Base here. 

“You never know what a day is going to bring, and we rely on our close teams to support each other. 

“The pilot, the nurse and doctor support each other, and you don’t get that in a hospital setting; it’s an amazing job for the diversity that we see every day.

James joined the RFDS in 2000 and his current position sees him training and checking in on new aeromedical pilots in the organisation. 

“One of the things I realised early on is that the pilot can really help that small team,” James says. 

“I remember going out of Mount Isa from Camooweal picking up a patient who went into cardiac arrest and the doctor got me to do CPR on the stretcher. 

“One minute I was flying an aeroplane and then I was under a doctor’s tutelage administering CPR.

“For me it’s a sense of altruism and at the end of the day I come home and think, ‘I’ve been part of something good today’. I hope that our supporters feel this way too, because they are truly part of our team.”

James also understands the importance that priority landings plays in his role transporting critically ill and injured patients. “My role combines all the things I love. After nearly four decades of flying, half my time in the sky has been with the RFDS doing my part to fly our patients into and out of Brisbane Airport.”

Although flying together for Justine and James has become less frequent due to changing job roles, occasionally the couple get to take to the sky together.

“We don’t really end up on the same roster anymore as I’m away training people, and Justine’s flying roles are not as frequent as they used to be,” James said.

“It’s not often but it’s great when we do.

“The last time we flew together was on James’s birthday — it was his
birthday present that he got to fly with me,” Justine added.

Brisbane Airport provides a gateway to Brisbane’s tertiary hospitals. Over the past 10 years Brisbane Airport Corporation (BAC) has donated over $3 million to the RFDS and helped more than 25,000 flights come into and out of Brisbane airport.