Desert drama

Date published

26 Feb 2020

Casey knew he was dying. When he would drift back into consciousness for a moment, he’d say to me: “I’m not afraid to die. I know I’m dying.”

Casey knew he was dying. When he would drift back into consciousness for a moment, he’d say to me: “I’m not afraid to die. I know I’m dying.”

Like a good father, I’d say back to him, “No, you’re not, son.”

But we all thought he was …

My name is Wally Ross.

Last October I was travelling across the Simpson Desert with my son Casey, his two children, his brother, brother-in-law and three nephews as part of a group of 25 four-wheel-drivers and motorcyclists.

Our adventure trip had been well planned and we were well prepared.

We had already been travelling for a couple of days when we reached a locality near Poeppel Corner – 174 kilometres west of Birdsville – where the borders of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland meet.

My son Casey was riding a motorbike. We were moving fairly close together and at one point the sound of Casey’s bike changed. What we found was shocking and horrifying.


 Casey had fallen from his bike and was staggering around in the baking red dirt – disorientated, delirious and incoherent. 

We quickly dragged Casey into the shade of a tree, and then he started to convulse and fell unconscious. We were terrified.

Let me tell you – the minute something goes wrong in the outback – it’s then you realise how dangerous and remote it is.

Casey was clearly very sick, but we were a very long way from help. We all knew who we needed – the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

But we also knew that these first moments were the start of a frantic race against time and distance.

Our group-leader used our satellite telephone and was connected immediately to the on-call Doctor at the RFDS Port Augusta Base.

It was such a relief to know we had straightaway reached someone who could give expert help, but we were still very frightened, worried that we were too far away – and too late – to get Casey the help he desperately needed.

The RFDS Doctor learnt that one of our travellers was a veterinarian who had packed some intravenous fluids, and the Doctor guided the use of the fluids by injection to try to help stabilise Casey. Thinking that he may have been suffering heat exhaustion, we also found some cans of cold drinks and stacked them around his neck, arms and wrists to try to cool him down. I learnt later that heat exhaustion can lead to heatstroke, which is life-threatening if left untreated.

Unseen by us, far away, people were moving quickly to marshal people and aircraft to get expert medical help to Casey’s side as fast as possible. First to arrive at the scene was the Cooper Medivac 24, a helicopter operated by two companies who support the RFDS – Senex Energy and Beach Energy – with a Nurse from the Moomba Clinic on board.

When Casey was loaded into the helicopter, I thought that would be the last time I would see him alive. The helicopter flew Casey to Birdsville, where he met the very fast and superbly-equipped RFDS Medi-Jet 24 for his dash to Adelaide.

In fact, when the helicopter arrived in Birdsville, the RFDS Medi-Jet 24 and RFDS crew were ready and waiting. The RFDS Retrieval Doctor and Flight Nurse on board gave Casey crucial medical care from take-off to landing. On arrival in Adelaide, Casey was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Near midnight that night, our group-leader’s satellite telephone rang.

It was Casey.

“Dad,” he said to me in a weak voice. “I think I’m going to be OK.”

The relief just flooded through my body. Then the telephone cut out and he was gone again.

During a week in hospital and after thorough medical tests, the doctors treated Casey for a dangerous viral infection and he recovered quickly.

We are eternally grateful for the RFDS. We’re sure Casey would not have survived without them.

Do you know how to contact the RFDS in an emergency? Here's how.

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The RFDS is always there, every day and night, to respond urgently to frightening medical emergencies like Casey’s.