Cliff's close call

Date published

17 Aug 2018

In Australia’s southern Gulf of Carpentaria sits Sweers Island, known for its incredible beaches and fishing. For Cliff Packham, it was the site of a dream fishing trip, ten years in the making.

But just twelve hours in, Cliff had a massive heart attack and collapsed. 

“We'd been fishing all morning. I can't even blame the fact that I was fighting a big fish and it put strain on me. There was no pain, no shortness of breath, nothing at all."


Cliff's mates alerted the owners of Sweers Island who contracted the Flying Doctor. We immediately responded with an aircraft.  

It was then that Cliff's heart stopped beating and he went into cardiac arrest.

One of Cliff's mates began performing CPR, before a young worker on Sweers Island took over, carrying out CPR on Cliff for more than 20 minutes.  Fortunately, the team also had a defibrillator on Sweers Island.

“They raced down with the defibrillator and immediately realised that I was in a full cardiac arrest, which apparently I had been for a number of minutes. They quickly applied it to get my heart beating again,” Cliff said.

All the while, the Sweers Island staff were on the phone to the Flying Doctor who provided advice and support.After landing on Sweers Island, Cliff was stabilised by the Flying Doctor crew and flown to Townsville Hospital, roughly 1,000kms away. Cliff says that he remembers nothing of the flight.

Cliff and Friends

“I believe that on the way to Townsville I went through another cardiac arrest, but I have no recollection of that at all. I don’t remember anything other than telling my mate I was unwell, and I didn't even know I'd collapsed until I woke up in the hospital in Townsville about 24 hours later.”

Today, Cliff is recovering well at his nephew's home on the Sunshine Coast. 

Every day he feels a bit stronger, and although it has only been five months since he almost died twice, he's already planning his next fishing trip.  

Cliff feels incredibly grateful to be alive. He knows that without his friends’ quick thinking, the Flying Doctor's speedy response and Townsville Hospital's excellent cardiac surgeons he could have lost his life.