Life Flight Celebrates 35 Years of Live-saving Operations in the Intermountain West

​In 1978, with one Alouette helicopter, a team at Intermountain Healthcare comprised of six nurses, 10 paramedics and two pilots began an air medical transport service in Salt Lake City, based out of LDS Hospital, called Life Flight.

It was just the seventh program in the United States. 

The first flight lifted off on July 6 of that year and transported a patient from Roosevelt, Utah, 125 miles east of Salt Lake City, to LDS Hospital, where he received life-saving treatment. Thirty-five years, nearly 63,000 patient transports and more than 10 million miles later, Life Flight continues providing life-saving transport to residents throughout the Intermountain West. 

During that time, Life Flight has become one of the premier air transport/rescue programs in the nation. 

“With 35 years of service to the communities we live in, all of us at Life Flight are honored to have been a part of so many life-saving transports,” said Bill Butts, Intermountain Life Flight’s director of aviation operations. “With more than 3,200 transports each year, Life Flight is not only here to meet current needs, but we’re upgrading and expanding to meet the emerging needs of our growing communities.” 

When Life Flight was founded in 1978, it was the seventh air medical helicopter service in the United States. Today, Life Flight’s fleet includes seven helicopters, three airplanes, 248 full or part-time employees, the Life Flight Operations Center based near the Salt Lake International Airport, and five base hospitals: 

• Intermountain Medical Center, Murray, Utah 
• McKay Dee Hospital, Ogden, Utah 
• Primary Children’s Medical Center, Salt Lake City, Utah 
• Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, Provo, Utah 
• Dixie Regional Medical Center, St. George, Utah 

Additionally, Life Flight is the only civilian air ambulance/rescue service in the United States certified by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct hoist/rescue operations. Since spring 2001, Life Flight has performed 204 hoist rescue missions, with 254 people rescued, sparing rescuers on the ground from harm and helping people in need. 

“I’ve been with Life Flight since 1979 and have been able to experience first-hand the evolution of technology, medicine and aircraft associated with air medical transport,” said Jerry Morrison, executive director of Life Flight. “There has always been something new on the horizon that has helped improve the service we provide and I’m excited and honored to be part of Life Flight.” 

During the years, Life Flight has made numerous advances to keep pace with population growth and emerging technologies. Advancements include: 

• In 1979, Life Flight began pediatric transport services with eight flight nurses specializing in pediatric care and transport. In 1990, a second Alouette helicopter was placed in service at Primary Children’s Medical Center. 
• In 1989, Life Flight began a fixed medical transport service based in St. George at Dixie Regional Medical Center. 
• In 1993, Life Flight purchased Agusta 109 K2 helicopters for better performance at high altitude and well-suited for search and rescue missions in Utah and the Intermountain West. 
• In 2000, an Agusta 109 K2 helicopter was based at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo to more effectively serve Utah, San Juan, Sanpete, Millard and Sevier counties. 
• In 2001, Life Flight began operations in northern Utah, based at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden, offering both adult and pediatric flight team services to northern Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. 
• In 2004, Life Flight began flying at night with Night Vision Goggles following training and certification. Approximately 75% of all night flights are flown with the aid of NVG’s. 
• In 2009, Life Flight added a 2006 Hawker Beechcraft King Air B200 to the current fleet of fixed-wing aircraft with advanced systems, allowing Life Flight to make all-weather, three-dimensional GPS approaches into many of the western states’ rural airports. The NTSB also held industry-wide hearing that same year to address safety concerns. There were some 14 initiatives that were presented as must-do in an environment of escalating accident rates. Ahead of these hearings, Life Flight was either practicing or taking steps to embrace half of the NTSB’s concerns. With the purchase and delivery of the new State-Of-The-Art Agusta helicopters the following year, Life Flight will have addressed all of the NTSB/industry safety initiatives. 
• In 2011, a new Agusta Grand helicopter was placed in service at Dixie Regional Medical Center, which marked the first step in upgrading and standardizing the Life Flight fleet. 
• In 2012, Life Flight added two additional Agusta Grand helicopters to the fleet, replacing the Bell 407 helicopters at Intermountain Medical Center and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. 

In conjunction with the 35-year celebration, Life Flight is holding a fun Facebook contest where people can enter to win a VIP tour of Life Flight’s fleet and hangar near the Salt Lake International Airport in late September. To enter the contest, go to and click on Life Flight VIP Tour. 

Life Flight is well-known and highly respected nationally. Many of our team members are serving, or have served, on the Board of Directors, or as committee members of a number of industry organizations. Life Flight is also accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS), and was the first air medical transport service in Utah to receive the accreditation in 1998.

​Life Flight Celebrates 35 Years of Live-saving Operations