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Local Air Idaho Rescue crew members return after helping with Hurricane Florence evacuations


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IDAHO FALLS — Local members of the Air Idaho Rescue Flight crew volunteered their services during pre-storm Hurricane Florence evacuations in North Carolina.

“We sent seven crew members – that’s two pilots, two certified flight nurses, two flight paramedics and a mechanic,” Air Idaho Rescue Business Development Manager Jaclyn Lester says. “The main purpose of the mission was to take patients in the line of the hurricane out to different facilities inland.”

Hurricane Florence started as a Category 4 hurricane and was downgraded to Category 1 before becoming a tropical storm. It is now a tropical depression but continues to pose threats to those in the Carolinas with heavy rains, flash flooding and river flooding.

Flight crew members were deployed mid-day Tuesday.

“It was a mad rush after that to make a commercial flight,” Flight nurse Heather Wilson says. “We couldn’t take all the crew and our equipment in the (rescue) airplane.”

The Air Idaho crew, which is a part of a larger organization called Air Methods, landed at a base in Georgia with flight members in similar rescue programs. From there, they went to North Carolina to help medical patients who needed to be transported to other medical facilities.

The evacuation aid mission was coordinated by Air Methods in conjunction with HCA Healthcare, according to Lester.

“Helping patients over there – it was great,” Wilson says. “They showed up in big mass casualty buses (and there was) a lot of chaos of course… We typically don’t take more than one patient at a time. During this situation, we were able to transfer several patients in our aircraft at a time.”

Lester says crew members worked on rotating shifts and helped over 40 patients get transported.

“It’s just devastating to think that you’ve gotten torn away from your home, the place you’ve probably always lived, and not knowing what you’re going to be coming back to,” Wilson says. “It really makes you thankful for what you’ve got.”

The flight crew arrived back in Idaho late last week. Lester says the crew can’t do much during the actual event of the storm but will be prepared for post-storm evacuation rescues.

“We’re just really proud as a program based out of Idaho Falls, Soda Springs, Driggs, and West Yellowstone to be able to offer this service to our partner companies in their time of need,” Lester says.