Horizontal Falls

Horizontal Falls boating accident patients reunite with RFDS crew

Date published

07 Sep 2022

Friday 27 May 2022 was an extraordinary day for the RFDS in WA. Our Flying Doctor teams were called to assist a rescue operation involving 26 people after a boating accident at Horizontal Falls. Queensland couple Jim and Chris Birch were two of the RFDS' patients that day.


Jim and Chris Birch were taking in the natural beauty of Horizontal Falls in May when the boat they were in suddenly crashed into a rock cliff.

Chris was seriously injured and required urgent retrieval by the RFDS to Perth. 

Months on, Jim recounts the harrowing experience and shared his gratitude to the RFDS and all emergency services involved in the rescue.

Photo: Dr Sally Edmonds and flight nurses Rachel Climpson and Natalie Saunders reunited with Jim and Chris Birch in Brisbane after attending the ASA + FN Conference. 

mass casualty event

“How quickly things can change. As we made our way back to the pontoon, I was comforting Chris who had sustained an open tibial fracture," Jim said.

"She was in an obvious state of pain and shock and I remember thinking that we are in a very remote area and a long way from medical assistance.

“Once the boat was safely moored, I looked around and saw that many of my fellow passengers had a variety of injuries.

“I remember Doctor Sally arriving on the pontoon and the look on her face when she saw the extent of the medical challenge that presented itself."

jets heli emergency services

Jim said what transpired next was an extraordinary display of teamwork, care and compassion by Horizontal Falls crew, passengers and the RFDS.

“Sally was later joined by flight nurses Rachel and Natalie who worked tirelessly for hours to provide care and support,” he said.

“Patients were gradually transferred by stretcher and in Chris’ case, sat on a seat and was carried by passengers and crew who formed a human chain under the careful supervision of the RFDS crew
from the boat onto the pontoon."

airlifted to safety

Jim and Chris were airlifted in separate seaplanes to Koolan Island Airport, a 15-minute journey north of the pontoon where they were triaged and provided with further care.

“I luckily only had a few scratches and bruises and was able to walk unassisted,” Jim said.

“It was amazing to see what the RFDS had organised in such an isolated spot. Each seriously injured passenger was assigned a medical team who treated us with outstanding care and compassion.

“Even those of us who weren’t seriously injured were given a thorough examination. 

"At last, I felt Chris and myself were safe.”

Photo: Chris Birch recovering at home in Queensland.

Chris Birch

Jim said during the flight to Perth, the adrenaline that had kept him going during the day was starting to wear off and it gave him time to reflect on what happened that day.

“I shed a quiet tear as I recalled the strength and bravery of those who were seriously injured and the kindness and compassion of all who helped us,” he said.

“Most of all I was grateful to the RFDS for coming to our aid. I am sure the Reverend John Flynn would have been proud of the ‘mantle of safety’ the RFDS provided for us on that day.”

Photo: Patients preparing for RFDS flight to Perth and Darwin at Koolan Island Airport Terminal 

The RFDS is a free service. Donate when you travel. It doesn’t matter where you are in Western Australia – the Flying Doctor is there to help in an unexpected medical emergency.