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Jet ambos take to African sky

Friday, 7th December, 2018

Australian High Commissioner to Kenya Allison Charters, with Dr Githinji Gitahi of AMREF Health Africa, and Group CEO Clyde Thomson at the unveiling ceremony in Kenya. PICTURE: Supplied Australian High Commissioner to Kenya Allison Charters, with Dr Githinji Gitahi of AMREF Health Africa, and Group CEO Clyde Thomson at the unveiling ceremony in Kenya. PICTURE: Supplied

By Craig Brealey

The former boss of the local Royal Flying Doctor Service, Captain Clyde Thomson, has officiated at the unveiling of the African Flying Doctors’ first jet air ambulance.

Captain Thomson was the CEO of the Flying Doctor Service in Broken Hill for 40 years and is now the chairman of the African Medical and Research Foundation Flying Doctors (AMREF).

AMREF began in 1957 and is based on the world’s first flying medical service, the RFDS, which was founded in Australia in 1928 by the Reverend John Flynn - “Flynn of the Inland.”

Two weeks ago Capt. Thomson flew to Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi for the unveiling of the jet ambulance, a Cessna Citation XLS, which will increase the international capability of the AMREF Flying Doctors.

AMREF often takes patients from Kenya to England, Europe and China for emergency treatment.

The new jet was christened “Sir Archie” after one of the founders of the Flying Doctors in Africa, Sir Archibald McIndoe. 

Sir Archibald was a New Zealand-born pioneer of plastic surgery who operated on aircrew in England who had been badly burnt in crashes during World War II. AMREF’s co-founders were also surgeons - Tom Rees and Michael Wood.

Captain Thomson AM GM, said the founders would be “very proud of us reaching this significant milestone in the continuing development of the Flying Doctors.

“I am reminded of what Sir Michael Wood wrote in his book ‘Go The Extra Mile’ where he says ‘I love flying and I love aircraft but I remind myself an aircraft is only a tool to serve humanity.’”

He also thanked Australia’s RFDS for its help, and in particular another ex-Broken Hill local, John Lynch, who helped introduce operating procedures for the African Flying Doctors.

Mr Lynch got his first job with the RFDS in 1986 when he was appointed financial manager of the local base. He rose to become the CEO of RFDS Central Operations and retired only last month. 

The Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, Allison Charters represented the Australian Government at the launch of the new jet and Capt. Thomson thanked her for our Government’s continued support of the AMREF Flying Doctors. 

Kenya’s Defence Cabinet Secretary, Raychelle Omamo, represented the Kenyan Government at the launch.

“I challenge AMREF Flying Doctors to continue elevating the prominence of your services in Eastern Africa and the continent into a global level,” Mr Omamo told the gathering.

Capt. Thomson first became associated with the AMREF Flying Doctors in 1984 when they visited Broken Hill’s RFDS for advice.

He retired as CEO of the local RFDS in 2014 and now lives in Sydney where he lectures at the University of NSW’s Aviation School.

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