Air Rescue: A behind the scenes look at medical helicopters

Cover Story
This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

CHICAGO– We’ve all seen car accidents with police lights and an ambulance on the shoulder, but the really traumatic crashes are rarely viewed, since police will shut down the entire stretch of road.

Those are the calls that go to the air ambulances. WGN takes a rare, behind the scenes look at the crews who swoop in when every second counts.

Once that call comes in to the crew at superior air ambulance the race is on to get in the air.

For the lead and line pilot, it’s getting there safely and fast.

Mike Boyle, Line Pilot, Superior Air Ambulance: “140 miles an hour. The advantage of a helicopter is you can go direct. We don’t have to worry about traffic… meadering roads. We can go direct where we need to go.”

For the flight medic and flight nurse, it’s keeping an eye out the window– never knowing exactly what they are coming into. With this kind of rescue there’s no helipad or designated landing spot.

It may be right on the highway or in a field, often times, littered with crash debris or strewn with wires– all dangerous. This crew is lucky, outfitted with the latest technology like night vision goggles to spot trouble below.

Mike Love, Chief Flight Nurse: “We caught hazards with our night vision goggles like barbed wire fencing that we wouldn’t have caught otherwise that could have been catastrophic.”

Phil Huth, Lead Pilot, Superior Air Ambulance: “If they say abort, abort–we circle back and figure out what the problem is.”

And that’s just getting there. What they find when they land is the second challenge. This is the backpack carried to the scene, stocked like a full surgical suite.

Aid for even the smallest of transports.

Patients are then loaded into tight quarters and air rushed to a trauma center. Many are unconscious and will never remember the flight, others will have memories of the iv pumps, glimpses of the sky and someone’s reassuring touch.

“There’s a lot of hand holding and emotional first aid to somebody.”

The team’s own emotions are on hold until the job is done.

Mike Love, Chief Flight Nurse: “As long as you stay on task you don’t have the opportunity to let the intensity set in. once everything is over, we do gather together and  have that chance to deal with any emotional response.”

Hundreds of rescues. The crew, rarely remembered, thanked or even recognized by those whose lives they saved.

“There is an unbelievable satisfaction with this kind of job. It’s a nice feeling going home and knowing what we did for the day.”

“It is rewarding to know we have made a difference in someone’s life.”

A ten year study out of Emroy University showed that the survival rate of crash victims nearly tripled when transported by a medical helicopter versus a ground ambulance.

But the ride won’t come cheap, averaging $10,000 – $20,000. Most insurance carriers will pick up the majority of the cost, but even the difference can be a hefty burden for patients.


Latest News

More News