Ladies are hoisting themselves and others up

It would seem that the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) is operating their real life air rescue team of four the same way these days as the Fantastic Four from Marvel Comics – with one lady in the mix to keep things together. In this real life case the woman in the team might be a highly visible External Load Operator (ELO) instead of the Invisible Woman, but the skill and determination involved make up for any missing superpower.

This brave position is being filled by Lindsey Cyster, who recently became the first female South African ELO at the age of 25. Lindsey explained to us that working as an ELO means working extremely closely with the other three superheroes of the air rescue team – the pilot, rescue medic, and technical rescuer – on board their AgustaWestland 119Ke helicopter. As an ELO she becomes the eyes and ears of the pilot when negotiating dangerous rescue situations, as well as making sure that both crew and patients are safely hoisted up and down.

While coming from a family involved in nursing and naturally being unafraid of heights may have been factors that helped her get started in the direction of being an ELO, it’s Lindsey’s bravery, commitment to staying physically fit through frequent gym routines, and the experience she gained working hard as an Emergency Care Technician in 2011 after studying at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology that let AMS train her up to become an ELO. Becoming an ELO was not something she anticipated at first when joining the emergency medical services, but once she was introduced to the air rescue services after joining, she set the goal for herself in 2012 already.

When we asked Lindsey if she minded a fuss being made about her being the first female ELO in South Africa, she said that while sometimes in the wrong context it could be bothersome, and that while on the job it doesn’t matter for her, it does still give her a lot of joy to know that she could inspire other women to ‘take off’ in what is usually considered a “man’s job”. She also went on to explain that her greatest reward and thrill is rising to the challenge of making a difference in the lives of others while hovering in danger zones where others fear to go.

Western Cape Government (WCG) Department of Health Emergency Medical Services, in partnership with the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service Trust (AMS) provides an emergency rescue and air ambulance service to the community of the Western Cape via a fleet of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. The Western Cape Department of Health is privileged to have this longstanding partnership with the AMS to ensure that all citizens have access to equitable acute specialised care at all levels. The Western Cape has two bases from which AMS operates; here in the Metro and in Oudtshoorn in the Eden district. Through this partnership with AMS, we are able to reach the far corners of this province in an event where aero medics are required.

External Load Operators (ELO) are crucial members of the helicopter rescue crew. The crew consists of the ELO, command pilot, paramedic, technical rescuer or rescue swimmer. The ELO is trained to assist the pilot to identify and avoid hazards in flight, communicate instructions and crucial information to the pilot, monitor the safety of rescuers and the patient when on board the aircraft or connected to the rescue systems.  They are trained in the operation of the cargo hooks, helicopter hoist, helicopter rescue systems, in-flight emergencies, rescue techniques, confined space landings, pattering aircraft in mountainous terrains and over sea.

Images Credit:Garth Moys (AMS)

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