Intermountain Health air rescue, transport programs celebrate decades of critical care
In May 2022, Christina Michel was hiking Mount Timpanogos with a friend when she lost her footing while crossing an ice patch close to the summit.
“I fell down a huge ice sheet,” said the 39 year-old South Ogden resident. “I started climbing back up to the trail inch by inch but I lost my footing again. One last time, I closed my eyes and prepared to fall.”
As she opened her eyes, she found herself braced by a rock. Desperately holding on, she called 911 and then called her son.
“I had to think of some advice I wanted to give him just in case, so I told him to find a group of people in his life and make their life good every day,” she said. “We said our goodbyes. As I heard the chopper, I sank deeper into the snow and held on tight.”
An Intermountain Life Flight helicopter and crew started the rescue. Michel said because of the terrain, it was difficult to get to her. But then she felt her feet being lifted and a hoist harness being wrapped around her waist.
“I was met with the warmest embrace by a nurse named Jill. They flew me out, and because of their knowledge and skills that day, I’m able to watch my son apply that advice I gave him and for that I am truly grateful,” she said Thursday, speaking at a press conference at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. The event was held to celebrate Intermountain Life Flight’s 45th anniversary and Classic Air Medical’s 35th anniversary. Both are part of the Intermountain Health system that serves patients across the nation.
Intermountain Life Flight is the only civilian air medical transport program in the nation licensed and authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform hoist rescues and has one of the longest histories of service in the nation, with service beginning in August 1978. During the past 45 years, the program, which began with one helicopter at LDS Hospital, has transported 118,756 patients more than 17.3 million patient miles. Last year alone, Intermountain Life Flight transported 4,548 patients with its fleet of seven helicopters, three airplanes, one Cessna jet airplane and one Challenger long-range jet. Classic Air Medical transported approximately 6,559 patients during that same time frame with its fleet of 32 aircraft, including 22 helicopters and 10 airplanes.
“The Intermountain Life Flight program has a deep history with Life Flight’s first flight to Roosevelt, Utah, in 1978 and Classic Air Medical beginning services Memorial Day 1988,” said Intermountain Health President and CEO Rob Allen. “Combined, the two transport 32 patients a day. The success of the Intermountain Life Flight program is thanks to the many caregivers in the air and on the ground, who have dedicated themselves to helping our many communities in need.”
Classic Air Medical provides air medical support from 24 bases across the Rocky Mountain and Southwest, with coverage in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado and New Mexico.
Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks said during his long career in public safety, one of his greatest accomplishments was to serve as a Life Flight paramedic.
“This is an organization that continues to save lives year after year. I can tell you from personal experience there are many stories about lives that have been saved and we here in the intermountain areas are privileged to have these services in our amazing communities,” he said.
Jake Blackwelder, a medic with Classic Air Medical, based in Moab, found himself to be on the other side of a rescue mission just last month while camping with his family.
His 9-year-old daughter, Olivia, started having a seizure and began vomiting. He immediately called 911 and began clearing her airway while waiting for help to arrive. When she stopped seizing, as Classic Air Medical arrived, Blackwelder said his daughter had no feeling on her left side and her face was drooping. He knew she had probably also suffered a stroke. She was flown to Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital where she was diagnosed with self-limited epilepsy with enteral temporal spikes, a type of epilepsy she will likely grow out of in the next four to six years.
“The comfort and peace of mind I got from talking to a familiar voice who was calm and reassuring was so incredibly helpful and relieving,” Blackwelder said. “To the people that showed up to our emergency, and all the folks in the communication center who worked on our behalf, we are so grateful for their time, compassion and empathy.”