Life Flight began rotor wing service in July 1978, in Salt Lake City, Utah. The service was based out of LDS Hospital and consisted of one Alouette helicopter under contract from Rocky Mountain Helicopters (RMH), six nurses, 10 paramedics, and two pilots.
The first flight took place on July 6, 1978.
The flight team flew to Roosevelt, Utah, 125 miles east of Salt Lake City, to pick up a patient who had been stabilized at the Duchesne County Hospital before being flown to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. After a few days there, he was released and went home with a model helicopter that commemorated the first flight of Intermountain Healthcare's air ambulance service.
Life Flight was the seventh air medical helicopter service in the United States. By 2003, there were over 545 rotor-wing medical helicopters based at over 470 bases across the United States.
The Life Flight pediatric team began service with eight flight nurses specializing in care and transportation of pediatric patients from regional hospitals. In 1981, a second Alouette helicopter was placed in service and based at Primary Children's Medical Center staffed with a flight team of consisting of a pilot, pediatric nurse, and an adult nurse.
The University of Utah transferred their neonatal special care unit to Primary Children's Medical Center. During that same year, the team was designated as a special care transport team for Life Flight.
While Life Flight began rotor wing flights in 1978, fixed-wing operations had been in service since 1972 through Barkin-FBO based at the Salt Lake International Airport, using a Cheyenne II and two Mitsubishi MU 2 twin-engine aircraft. In 1981, Rocky Mountain Helicopters became the primary service provider of fixed-wing services for Life Flight with a Conquest and a Cheyenne II.
Life Flight made the decision to purchase two Agusta 109 K2 helicopters. Replacing the older Alouette helicopters with aircraft that could perform at high altitude was a critical factor in the decision making process. In addition, the K2 was well suited for hoist operations and was being considering in future planning.
Life Flight purchased three King Air B-200 twin-engine aircraft, and in the same year, Life Flight became the first air medical transport service to be CAMTS accredited in the State of Utah.
After a long and lengthy certification process, Life Flight became the first civilian FAR 135 hoist operator in the United States. Hoist operations commenced in the spring of 2001 with the first hoist rescue mission taking place in a steep canyon east of Bountiful, Utah. The hoist team has conducted rescue missions to the North in Idaho and Wyoming, and Arches National Park in southern Utah.
Intermountain Healthcare and Life Flight were selected to provide health care and air medical services during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Intermountain Life Flight added two Bell 407 helicopters to its fleet of Agusta A109 k2 helicopters. Though the Bell 407 is generally utilized for shorter flights and inter-hospital transports along the Wasatch Front, they can carry relatively large payloads over long distances at speeds close to 150 mph.
Life Flight moved into a new Operations Center at the Salt Lake City International Airport. The center provided administrative offices, training facilities, hanger, and maintenance spaces for two King Air and three helicopters, day rooms, kitchens, a flight planning center, and sleep rooms for crews and the Life Flight Communication Center. In early 2006, the new Intermountain Healthcare Physician's Referral Center, based at the Life Flight hanger, became operational.
Intermountain Life Flight was approved to fly all rotor wing aircraft with NVG's (Night Vision Goggles), which allow the pilot and medical crew the ability to see at night nearly as well as they do during the day. All rotor wing pilots and medical crewmembers are provided with state of the art NVG equipment and receive extensive training under all possible flight conditions. In addition to basic training, a comprehensive annual training program was developed for all crew members to maintain proficiency with NVG equipment. NVG's have provided a significant safety and operational advancement to the Life Flight program
Intermountain Life Flight opened the new Flight Control Center. Flight controllers working along side communication specialists manage air operations for both fixed and rotor wing pilots. The controllers are the "heart and soul" of this innovative center, providing dedicated assistance to our pilots including TIER briefings, currency checking and verification, weather monitoring and alerts, flight following, and dissemination of Notices to Airman.
Rotor wing flight teams completed training with the new Avalanche Probe, utilized by helicopter to locate victims trapped by avalanches. Life Flight began the project in late 2006. After FAA approval of an anchoring system, probes were purchased and flight crews completed training and became operational in January 2008. The probe consists of a specially designed antenna and receiver combination carried on board the helicopter, which when deployed about 15 feet below the aircraft, can detect and identify beacons on appropriately equipped avalanche victims. This program works in conjunction with local ski patrols and Wilderness Rescue Organizations allowing the victim to be located by air and rescued by ground teams.
All Life Flight aircraft are equipped with satellite tracking systems (Sky Connect). The system closely monitors fixed and rotor wing aircraft, relaying GPS coordinates to Operational Control, and allows for tracking and monitoring flight paths on a large plasma screen monitor in the communication center. The system also provides the ability to text message the flight crew while in the air.
July 5, 2008
This marks the 30th Anniversary of Life Flight! For 30 years we have been providing rotor wing service to the Intermountain West. This remarkable achievement is a direct result of the support and dedication of not only the medical community but also EMS providers, law enforcement, fire, and other public safety professionals in Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, and Arizona. We thank and appreciate our friends, partners, and peers who have allowed us to care for their patients these past 30 years!
Life Flight added a 2006 Hawker Beechcraft King Air B200 to the current fleet of three, fixed-wing aircraft. The all-weather twin turboprop cruises at 320 MPH at altitudes up to 35,000 feet and can carry up to nine passengers, including two patients. This new generation aircraft is equipped with a state-of-the-art Collins Proline 21 avionics system, allowing it to comply with not only the most recent FAA navigation restrictions for avionics, but to adapt to any and all foreseeable avionics requirements. A major feature of this advanced system is the ability to make all weather, three dimensional GPS approaches into many of the western states' rural airports.
Intermountain Life Flight added a dedicated full-time Safety Officer to the professional staff. William Winn is responsible for overseeing the safety program for both fixed and rotor wing operations; he will also manage the Safety Committee. Bill is a former rotor wing pilot with over 27 years experience in the military and 10 years with Life Flight.
In late 2009, Intermountain Life Flight began the process of upgrading the current fleet of two Agusta 109K2 and two Bell 407 helicopters. In 2010, Intermountain Healthcare committed to purchasing three Agusta Grand-New helicopters, with an option for two more in order to ultimately replace and standardize the entire fleet. The first Grand – scheduled to be delivered in March 2011 – will be placed into service at the new helicopter base at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah.
The Agusta Grand-New is a twin-engine helicopter that offers faster cruise speeds and lower fuel consumption. The “glass” cockpit features: a suite of multi-function liquid crystal displays with a computer-generated presentation of flight navigational information and the aircraft systems status. The flight display and management system accommodates flying by reference to only the instrument display, as well as the usual mode of flight by visual reference to the terrain outside the aircraft. When flying in conditions of reduced visibility due to night or adverse weather, or both, other displays can alert the pilot to the presence of other aircraft in the vicinity or to terrain or other obstacles that could pose a threat based on the aircraft’s current flight path. The displays are designed to be compatible with Night Vision Goggles (NVG), significantly enhancing safety for flights conducted at night over rural or sparsely populated areas.
The profile and look of the Agusta Grand is similar to the A109 series helicopters employed by Life Flight since the early 1990’s, with the fuselage approximately 8 inches longer. The additional length is most noticeable in the cabin area, where the additional space provides better patient access. The increased space, combined with smaller, more compact monitors, patient management equipment and the carefully designed layout of the crew and patient area, provide improved comfort and safety for both patient and crew.
Life flight began operations in 1978. Since that time its search and rescue has been known for high altitude operations in the rugged backcountry of Utah and surrounding states. The new helicopter will allow Life Flight to continue this signature service in a coordinated effort to serve and assist the climber, hikers, skiers, and campers that take full advantage of all the state has to offer. With the follow-on helicopter deliveries, Life Flight is prepared to continue the unique and indispensible hoist rescue operations that it began in late 2001.