Pilot Marc Daniels learned to fly helicopters at Ft. Rucker, Alabama for the US Army. Originally flying models of the UH-60 Blackhawk for two tours each in Iraq, South Korea and Germany, Daniels said that he has flown with Air Evac since 2004. A pilot for 21 years, he said that his favorite part of his job is the opportunity to fly regularly.
Membership Coordinator Kitty Calhoun said that Air Evac operates a total of 76 aircraft in 13 states and has been in business since 1985. The Hopkinsville branch began operations in 1999 and serves eight counties. The Hopkinsville helicopter usually flies patients to Nashville or Louisville to receive state of the art treatment.
A membership in the Air Evac Lifeteam can save patients a substantial amount of money. Calhoun said that a flight could cost between $12,000 and $16,000. “A year’s membership will cost one person $50, $55 for two people and a family membership is $60. Residents of Trigg County enjoy a $10 discount.”
Calhoun said that the Air Evac helicopter is limited by weather during flights. She said that regulations prevent crews from risking three more lives in the air and untold lives on the ground in foul weather, plus the life of a patient they are attempting to save.
Daniels said that the aircraft operated by Air Evac is a Bell 206, which he described as “one of the safest single-engine aircraft ever operated.” Crews fly an average of one mission per day, though he has flown as many as three in a shift. He added that most flights transfer critically injured patients or those with life threatening conditions to other facilities. The pilot said that only 25 percent of flights evacuate trauma patients from the field.
Hospital Board of Directors members Mallory Lawrence, Randolph Crenshaw and Linda Burnam joined Trigg County Judge/Executive Stan Humphries and this reporter at the hospital’s helipad on May 5 at 4:30 for the flight. The helicopter launched the week before to perform a rescue and could not fly on one occasion due to rain.
Daniels gave the assembly of passengers a lecture on safety procedures in the helicopter exceeding those given on commercial airlines. He began with the four-point restraints worn by passengers and crew aboard the craft and advised them about avoiding the tail rotors. He said that if a door opened in flight, the forward airspeed created pressure to seal the door.
Though helicopters generate greater noise than fixed-wing aircraft, Daniels said that noise-canceling headphones would protect the hearing of passengers for their short flights, while crews regularly augmented their headphones with earplugs. The headsets also sported voice-activated microphones to allow communication between pilot, crewmembers and passengers.