Wellington Intensive Care Unit

Te Rui Atawhai



The Wellington Flight Retrieval Service was established in 1994 and transports almost 2000 patients a year between hospitals in New Zealand. These include critically ill patients from smaller hospitals that require the advanced ('tertiary') level care provided in Wellington, and those returning back to the hospital nearest to home.
Lifeflight Hangar And Rotor
Retrieval Team
Westpac Rescue Helicopter
Flight Nurse
Helipad corridor
Cook Strait Clouds
Flight Nurse With Balloon Pump
Wellington Flight Team
Lifeflight hangar sunrise
Stacks Image 2581
Most transfers are by fixed wing (aeroplane) with the remainder by helicopter and road ambulance. All the vehicles are shared with the Wellington Neonatal Unit Retrieval Team which is staffed from Wellington Hospital's NICU. The helicopter is also used by the New Zealand police force, the army, and Wellington Free Ambulance as well as for search & rescue work.
The flight team work very closely with Life Flight who provide the specialist aircraft, pilots, crew and facilities at Wellington Airport required for aeromedical retrieval work.

Our aeromedical retrieval team is available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
The only factor that rarely limits availability is the weather in either Wellington or the retrieval destination

Life Flight TV Series


Life Flight Wellington use a British Aerospace Jetstream J32 fixed wing aircraft and a BK 117 helicopter.

Lifeflight Fixed Wing British Aerospace Jetstream 32
BAe Jetstream 32
Able to transfer 2 stretcher patients simultaneously. Pressurised, twin propellers. Cruising speed 488km/hr to maximum altitude 25,000 feet.
Life Flight Helicopter BK117
Kawasaki BK 117
Cruising speed 260km/hr to maximum altitude 13,450 feet. Able to carry 1 stretcher patient and 5 others (medical staff and relative).

Life Flight television promo

Used with kind permission of the Life Flight trust


The Wellington Flight Retrieval Service has a two tier nursing model consisting of 10 Intensive Care Flight Nurses and 6 Transit Care Nurses.
The Intensive Care Flight Nurses work 12 hour shifts with 4 day shifts and 4-6 on-call night shifts over a 6 week roster period.


Intensive Care Flight Nurses must meet the following criteria

  • A minimum of 2 years working in Intensive Care or Emergency Medicine
  • A 'Careers Pathway' progression of proficient, working towards expert
  • To have completed the ICU or trauma course, working towards certification
  • Meet the requirements for the air medical programme
  • Be able to work effectively under stress in a confined environment
  • Be able to recognise when intervention is necessary
  • The desire to extend their knowledge and enjoyment of the challenges of the aviation environment
  • Meet and pass the aeromedical fitness check

All flight nurses must attend the annual 3 day Wellington Flight Course prior to flying.
They must also accompany a trained flight nurse on 10 'buddy' flights which must include transfers by helicopter, fixed wing and road. Only after this are they able to accompany patients alone.
Wellington Flight Nurses 2011

Click to enlarge

Flight nurses are able to administer any medication they deem necessary from the list of pre-approved 'standing order' drugs without specific medical prescription. The on-call Intensive Care Consultant is available for telephone advice 24 hours-a-day.

All Flight Nurse training and transfers meet the Standards Of Practice of the New Zealand Flight Nurses Association.

ICU Flight Retrieval Doctor


Medical staff are provided from the ICU Registrar roster with a doctor available 24 hours-a-day. An ICU Consultant may accompany the Registrar with the sickest or youngest patients.

All Registrars beginning work in Wellington ICU are inducted to the flight service with specific teaching on medicine in an aviation environment and orientation to the helicopter and airplane. This also includes teaching on available equipment & medication, health & safety training, and advice on working in an isolated & restricted environment. The ICU senior medical staff provide 24/7 supervision of all interhospital transfers.

Most medical staff will participate in 10-15 interhospital transfers during their 6 month rotation through ICU.

All transfers meet the College of Intensive Care Medicine's Minimum Standards For Transport Of Critically Ill Patients (IC-10)
Wellington MET statistics

More information about our flight service can be found here and in a paper published in the New Zealand Medical Journal in March 2012.

Clinical oversight for the flight retrieval service is provided by Karyn Hathaway (Clinical Nurse Specialist) & Dr.Alex Psirides (Clinical Lead)
LifeFlight Retrieval Aircraft

This page was last updated on Friday, 03 August 2018 16:14:20