A headset muffles the sound of the whirring rotor above, as the craft rises higher. The only clue that actual forward motion is occurring is the landmarks whizzing by the helicopter windows.
Suddenly pilot Donny Harrell banks hard to the right in the Gold Cross AirMed chopper inducing an adrenalin rush similar to that first drop on a roller coaster ride.
However, few passengers experience a trip on Gold Cross' latest aerial acquisition, an AS-350 helicopter. For most, it's not about whether they have the guts to ride again. It's about whether they live or die.
Commonly referred to as the A-Star, the AS-350 is made by France-based Eurocopter and sports a Turbomecca engine, generally considered to be among the finest aircraft engines in the world.
AirMed purchased the 11-year-old helicopter with a newly rebuilt engine for $1.3 million and turned it into a flying emergency vehicle.
A victim from an accident involving a truck containing radioactive waste and a van with a methamphedamine lab is taken to a Gold Cross helicopter during a disaster drill involving 27 emergency agencies. Gold Cross recently purchased a $1.3 million helicopter.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"This helicopter is much better equipped than the average ambulance," said Dan Gates, the director of Gold Cross/AirMed. "So it's a little unfair to call it a flying ambulance. It's much more like a flying emergency room."
The AirMed chopper is outfitted with a ventilator, three-channel programmable I-V pump, and a Propaq monitor. The $30,000 Propaq monitor combines EKG, non-invasive and invasive blood pressure, pulse oximetry, sidestream CO2, temperature monitor and two invasive line monitors into one machine.
The A-Star is the second helicopter in Gold Cross' flying rescue service. In October of 2002 Gold Cross bought the A-Star to handle some of the workload placed on the original AirMed chopper an Agusta 109-C. That helicopter now uses the Medical College of Georgia as its home base.
Operating off of Doctors Hospital helipad, Gates describes the A-Star as Gold Cross' "workhorse."
"Both helicopters operate within certain limits," Gates said. "When you approach the upper limits of the A-Star the peak performance is still available, whereas in the Agusta when you approach the upper limits you're losing a lot of the performance of the engine. (The A-Star) operates wonderfully throughout the entire range of the limitations.
"To give you an example, if you loaded this helicopter down to its max gross weight you could still easily pull straight up off the helipad. Now, on the Agusta, if you load it to its max gross weight, it's going to struggle getting off the ground. It has the same power, but it just doesn't perform as well as the A-Star."
The helicopters utilize a three-man crew - pilot, paramedic and nurse. Gold Cross employs six pilots and 25 paramedics and nurses for AirMed.
According to Gates, the A-Star averages one call a day. Both helicopters split an average of 65 flights a month. Of those 65 flights, about 15 are scene calls and the other 50 are inter-facility transports - flying a patient from one hospital to another.
"It's a lot of money, but it's worth it," Gates said. "It gives us a lot of flexibility in what we can do, especially in inter-facility transports."
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