IntlSOS 30 Years - From East to West - Page 109

06 Any Time, Any Place | Our Air Ambulance Service
Left: Patrick Deroose,
medical evacuation,
mid 1990s.
Right: Dr Neil Nerwich
and Lyn Baczocha,
on the way back from
an evacuation,
Sydney Airport, 2002.
Fact No. 17
During every hour of every
day, there are two aircraft
in the sky evacuating or
repatriating our members.
“It was all about learning as you go and listening.
Listening, showing respect and being physically
present. That way you can achieve a lot.” Today,
Patrick is General Manager at International SOS
Corporate Assistance Department in Philadelphia.
sources; and it was set up to carry neonatal
patients in special incubators. It also had satellite
communications and dual high frequency radios so
we could communicate with our Assistance Centres.
As Pascal says:
Times were different then. Many refer to it as
‘cowboy country’. We often had to talk our way into
and out of difficult situations. On one occasion
Pascal had to use all his negotiating skills to get a
patient quickly through immigration by explaining
to the authorities why he was escorting a patient
without travel documents. Another time, whilst an
air ambulance was on a stopover in Rangoon, the
team was arrested for failing to have the right
permissions in place. It was challenging, exciting
and a great learning curve for all.
Money Matters
For each trip we had to convert whatever aircraft
we were using into an air ambulance. Whilst our
medical team got all the equipment on board, others
would get the necessary permits, sort out refuelling
and all the other logistics. Our target was always to
get the aircraft in the air within two hours of being
dispatched. It would often be ready to go, on the
tarmac, as we waited for the final clearances to be
confirmed. Despite this efficiency, as the business
grew, so did our need for a full time air ambulance.
In 1997 we became the first assistance company in
Asia to have a 24/7 dedicated air ambulance.
We bought a Falcon 200. It was a beautiful machine,
fully equipped to deal with the medical transport of
patients from remote areas and over long distances.
It had a double tandem stretcher layout, built-in
oxygen and suction equipment and three power
“It put us in a position where we could respond to
medical evacuations quicker than before, and far
faster than anyone else in this region.”
However, buying and equipping this aircraft was
a huge investment for the company and was not
something we repeated. In future we opted for long
term leases and other arrangements with aircraft
operators. It was all part of the learning curve.
Patrick recalls a case early on when he dealt with a
call from a ship asking us to help a sailor who was
vomiting blood. Patrick and the team got the sailor
to hospital in a helicopter which had to land on the
top of the container ship. The patient survived and
later went home to China. However, the
inexperienced Patrick had failed to collect payment.
With some trepidation he met Laurent Sabourin in
his office to tell him that this very expensive medical
transport remained unpaid for. Laurent‘s only
question was: “How is the patient?”
Most of the patients that came our way were
employees of member companies or insurance
policy holders; in the early days about 10% of our
members were also private individuals. Whoever
they were, we first got the transportation underway
then sorted out the finances. As Lisa Tan says:
“We knew people didn’t injure themselves on
purpose to get money out of us!”


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