New Flight: Life Flight to Unveil New Helicopter Fleet

The state's oldest and busiest air ambulance service, Memorial Hermann's "Life Flight," has been helping save lives in and around Houston since 1976. It's been almost twenty years since Life Flight updated it's fleet, but hospital officials are unveiling the first of six brand new, state-of-the-art helicopters, Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams reports.

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"Life Flight, this is Melissa. I have a call from the flight crew to notify you that they have one coming in."

High atop Memorial Hermann Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, Life Flight operates one of the busiest air ambulance services in the nation, with more than 10,000 flights in its 31 year history, on average about 10 a day. By the start of next year, Life Flight will have six new Euro-Copter EC-145 helicopters, machines that cost $6.3 million each.

"This brand-new aircraft that you see on the pad today is the state-of-the-art in air medical transport aircraft."

William David is Life Flight's clinical director.

"We should be able to respond and get very sick patients back to this level one trauma center quicker than we have ever done in the past."ξ

Life Flight Operates in a 150 mile radius around the city. Four older helicopters currently in service have been sold, with an expensive shipment of new ones on the way.

"The hospital could never have afforded to purchase six brand-new aircraft like this and the Houston community came together, rallied together and we raised those funds. In a year, we got the money we needed to update the fleet and be a state-of-the-art flight program."ξ

Compared to the older helicopters, the EC-145's are noticeably larger inside, are faster and can carry more fuel. Director of Aviation Eric VonWenckstern has been flying for Life Flight for 26 years.

"It reduces the pilot workload because now the machine can do more. The pilot can take his hands off and get a map out and be more relaxed. He has more technology to warn him about obstacles that are coming up. We have NexRad radar like you see on t-v, so that's interlaced on the screen with our course so we can see the thunderstorms in relation to where we're going."ξ

Life Flight will soon have five new helicopters in service and another as a back-up.

"Safety is our number one thing and I think the greatest thing that this new aircraft is going to do is make our program safer and more efficient."

Sam Dodson is a flight paramedic and says that safety factor is a big deal when he's working on patients while in the air.

"Not only the safety of the aircraft from the new avionic packages in it, but the new interior that we had designed, the lighting system, the engines and then with the extra equipment that we'll be able to carry to more effectively take care of our patient without having to know beforehand what specific call we're going on."

You can see pictures of the new helicopter and learn more about Life Flight on our website, KUHF.org.

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