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New air ambulance helicopter takes flight

Enloe's new EC130 T2 EcoStar helicopter – the first in the world to be configured as an air ambulance.

Enloe Medical Center is delighted that FlightCare will begin its 30th year of air ambulance service with a new helicopter. The EC130 T2 EcoStar helicopter features the latest in aviation safety technology, new medical equipment, a roomy cabin and a quieter sound signature. In fact, Enloe Medical Center was one of the first customers to launch this generation of EcoStar helicopters, and Enloe FlightCare will have the first one in the world that has been medically configured. It's all thanks to generous fundraising efforts by many individuals and organizations throughout FlightCare's area of service.

“Our patients and our air ambulance crews deserve the safest, most accommodating transportation available, and I am very proud to say that this state-of-the-art helicopter is the best available to our program,” says Mike Wiltermood, CEO of Enloe Medical Center.

The helicopter is expected to be certified and mission ready in early February, following a month of pilot flight training and medical crew orientation as well as certification and approval by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Design enhancements

Enloe selected the EcoStar primarily for its advanced safety features in addition to its quiet sound signature. The enclosed tail rotor is a major safety enhancement, and this feature combined with the helicopter’s computer control system also creates quieter aircraft inside and out. In fact, the helicopter was originally designed for the tour industry and is approved for areas such as the Grand Canyon and Hawaii, where sound requirements are the highest. This feature is very important to the hospital since it is situated in a residential neighborhood.

In other safety upgrades, many of the flight instruments have been replaced with all-in-one digital technology and the aircraft includes built-in night vision as well as synthetic vision, providing the pilot with a clear look in 3-D on the primary flight display during low-visibility situations.

A cabin that’s 19 percent roomier provides more space for patients and it enables the crew better access to provide lifesaving care. The improved air conditioning system adds to the comfort on 100-degree-plus days. “Some say that this is an air conditioner with a helicopter built around it,” Marshall jokes.

New medical equipment includes an intercom system built into the aircraft to allow flight crew to clearly listen to blood pressure and heart and lung sounds – typically a challenge to hear in a helicopter. The FlightCare and Mother & Baby Care Center staff is thrilled with the addition of a neonatal isolette, which enables the transport of infants. An additional seat in the cabin also means that a parent can fly with the baby.

United by a need

FlightCare team and Take Flight Committee  co-chairs

“The fundraising was truly a regional effort,” Wiltermood says. In total, more than 1,900 individuals and organizations donated toward this cause, with donations coming from areas as far south as Colusa, as far north as Red Bluff, all the way over to Stonyford to the west and Quincy/Greenville/Chester on the east.

We are extremely grateful to these communities and the many donors in Butte County,” Wiltermood said. “We can’t say enough about the Take Flight Committee and the leadership of our co-chairs, Mark Kimmelshue and Scott Chalmers, in meeting our fundraising goals and making this all possible.”

Due to this outstanding fundraising support, and with the future sale of the existing helicopter, there will be no cost increase for patients flown in the EcoStar.

Enloe Medical Center thanked and acknowledged donors at a special event on Saturday, Jan. 10, followed by a public unveiling of the new helicopter. Among the speakers, former Chief of Staff, Dr. Charles Merriman, described the “golden hour” needed for best care, and how he knows that each flight is never routine. Life can change in an instant, and here in the North Valley, with remote locations and terrain that includes high-altitude foothills and deep canyons, the speed and accessibility of the Enloe FlightCare helicopter greatly increases the chances of survival for those with grave illness or traumatic injury. A man who knows this firsthand shared his story and gave thanks to the community for helping support this program.

"Angels we can see"

Jimmy Pearson and his original FlightCare crew reunited at the helicopter unveiling event

Jimmy Pearson was 4 years old when he became one of the first FlightCare patients in 1985. He'd been riding with his parents in a rice bank-out wagon on the family's farm near Maxwell when the auger on the wagon jammed. Jimmy's father stopped the wagon to make repairs and Jimmy followed, wanting to help his dad. Jimmy slipped into the wagon just as the jam cleared and the augur began to turn, tangling his leg in the machinery. He remembers bits and pieces about his flight, mostly “the pretty nurse named Patty who kept me awake by squeezing a yellow rubber duck and patting my cheek,” he recalls. That life-saving flight got Jimmy to Enloe Medical Center just in time. Jimmy went on to graduate from California State University, Chico, married his college sweetheart and now works as a paralegal in Sacramento. He’ll tell you from his heart what that flight to Enloe means to him. “They are angels we can see. They swoop down from the sky and they save your life.”

To watch a video of Jimmy’s story, and to view two others’ life-saving experiences, visit

Enloe FlightCare Fun Facts

  • Founded in 1985, FlightCare was the first air ambulance service north of Sacramento
  • Presently, it is the only hospital-owned and -operated air ambulance program in California
  • Has transported more than 17,000 patients since 1985
  • Responds to an average of three calls per day within a 75-mile radius of Enloe in counties including Butte, Tehama, Glenn, Plumas, Colusa, Sierra, Yuba and parts of Lassen
  • Crew consists of five pilots, three mechanics, four paramedics and eight nurses. Flight nurses work in the Emergency Department when not on a mission
  • Accredited by CAMTS (Commission on Accreditation of Air Medical Transport Systems)
  • 8,000 member families participate in the FlightCare Membership Program, which offers no-out-of-pocket-cost transportation for reasonable and medically appropriate use of the air ambulance

1531 Esplanade Chico, California 95926 | P: 530.332.7300
This publication does not constitute professional medical advice. Although it is intended to be accurate, neither the publisher nor any other party assumes liability for loss or damage due to reliance on this material. If you have medical questions, consult your medical professional. Images may be from one or more of these sources: ©Thinkstock, ©iStock, ©Fotolia, Mark Thau. ©2014 BlueSpire Strategic Marketing I

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