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Murray Journal

Life Flight: saving lives for four decades

Sep 21, 2018 01:38PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Life Flight marked 40 years of life-saving at a special service at the State Capitol. (Shaun Delliskave/City Journals)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

If you were to name the official bird of Murray, what would it be? While there are plenty robins, finches, and magpies to go around, the one bird that seems to always grab everyone’s attention is the giant red whirlybird with “Life Flight” stenciled on it.

Intermountain Life Flight, the unofficial bird of Murray, celebrated its 40th year of delivering patients to hospitals all throughout Intermountain Healthcare’s system of hospitals.

Life Flight celebrated its 40th anniversary on Aug. 29 at the State Capitol with many of the people who have been impacted by its services—including past patients, survivors who have been rescued, and members of the state’s law enforcement and search-and-rescue community.

Piloting the Agusta 109 New Grand Helicopter onto the statehouse grounds was former Murray resident Kent Harrison. Harrison, a veteran flyer of 20 years, shuttles patients to his base hospital, the Intermountain Medical Center (IMC).

“We have only had two noise complaints since we started operations there,” said Harrison. “We avoid coming in from the north, so we don’t disturb the residents in the apartment (Lost Creek) complex too much.”

Intermountain Life Flight is the only civilian air ambulance program in the United States licensed to perform hoist rescues. In those 40 years, Life Flight has transported nearly 107,000 patients and has completed 400 hoist rescues. Life Flight has also flown 15 million miles—roughly the equivalent of flying halfway to the planet Mars.

When it began in 1978, Life Flight started out with just one helicopter, two pilots and mechanics, six nurses, and 20 paramedics. Today their service includes six helicopters, three airplanes, and is based at seven regional hospitals, including IMC. In addition to patient transport and rescue, they also provide organ transplant flights.

To mark the medical milestone, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proclaimed Aug. 29 as Intermountain Life Flight Appreciation Day and honored the men and women of the program in a special ceremony held on the south lawn at the State Capitol. Present and former Life Flight employees gathered in Murray Park that evening to celebrate and reunite with each other.

“Murray Park helps us be good neighbors,” remarked Harrison. The park faces IMC’s helipad to the west of its entrance. “When we come in on approach, the park keeps us from having to fly over residential neighborhoods.”

The Life Flight aircraft, all painted red, have an average cruising speed of 150 mph and generally can travel 200 miles out and back without refueling. All pilots are outfitted with night vision goggles and are continually trained to fly in complex urban and mountainous situations.

Traffic accidents, cardiac emergencies, ATV accidents, falls and general medical emergencies make up the top five reasons for patient transports.

“We are required to fly in no lower than 500 feet and only 300 feet on approach. But we always double that and try to stay over the commercial and industrial areas of Murray,” Harrison said.

They fly around the clock in what is known as the Golden Hour, the crucial 60 minutes following a traumatic injury, during which a person's survival rate is about 80 percent, if they can reach proper care. Only once did crews stand down, back in January 2017, to honor a co-worker, Tyson Mason, who had died in a car crash. Other air transport crews pitched in to allow the Life Flight teams to mourn their colleague.

According to Harrison, IMC has its own special flight plan to use during inclement weather, utilizing Murray High School’s football field to help navigate safely onto the busy IMC complex.