Wombarra resident and CareFlight founder Ian Badham has been recognised internationally for his contribution to air medical transport and rescue services at an award ceremony in Rome.
The former journalist and volunteer lifesaver was presented with the prestigious Gerhard Kugler award at the International AirMed World Congress on Thursday, four decades after he launched Australia's first non-military rescue helicopter operation.
It was the first time the European and North American rescue helicopter organisations have given the award to anyone outside Europe.
"The contribution which Ian has made to develop Australia's rescue helicopter services is equal in importance to the achievement of Rev John Flynn from 1928 when he established what became the Royal Flying Doctor Service," MedEvac Foundation International chair Dr Kevin Hutton said.
The rescue helicopter operation began with a $25,000 sponsorship Mr Badham obtained from the then Bank of NSW (now Westpac), and grew to include trained rescue crews in Sydney, Gosford, Newcastle, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. In 1986 he introduced the concept of helicopter medical retrieval to Australia by co-founding CareFlight, which now operates in NSW, Queensland and the Northern Territory.
"Over the past four decades I estimate than more than half-a-million Australians have been rescued or flown by the expanding network of Australian rescue helicopter services," he said, adding that even more helicopter bases were needed.
Gerhard Kugler started Germany's network of medical-rescue helicopters, which spread from Munich in 1968 to include 63 bases.