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Life Flight helicopter brings night capabilities to Kona Community Hospital

July 16, 2014 - 12:05am

West Hawaii patients needing urgent medical care at hospitals on Oahu and Maui are flying there in a faster, safer and more versatile helicopter.

The Eurocopter EC135 unveiled and blessed at Kona Community Hospital on Tuesday can cruise at 160 miles per hour and is capable of night flying. The helicopter can carry heavier loads and is equipped with night vision and navigational aids that were lacking in a previous machine used by Life Flight Hawaii.

The twin engine machine shaves precious time off a transfer when every moment counts.

The chopper replaces a single-engine A-Star craft. For night transfers, patients used to have to be transported to the airport, taken off-island on a Life Flight airplane, then carried by ambulance again to the destination, a process that could take four hours.

“Now we can do it in a little over an hour or a little under, depending on whether we’re going to Oahu or Maui,” said hospital CEO Jay Kreuzer.

With plans in the works for a new helipad on the rooftop of the hospital, transfer times stand to get even shorter. The latest state appropriation contained $3.5 million for the new facility, and the hospital is moving ahead with procuring an architect for the project.

Patients will be whisked to the rooftop via elevator instead of having to be loaded in a vehicle and transported to the helipad just mauka of the hospital, Kruezer explained.

“Time is of the essence,” he said at the blessing attended by Life Flight personnel and KHC employees and board members.

The new chopper has been doing a transfer a day since April. The machine is the latest in an evolution of air ambulance vehicles that Life Flight Hawaii has used to serve the island. The contract air ambulance service also operates a King Air C90B airplane stationed at Kona International Airport.

Visibility at hospital helipads is tricky at night, said Dave Steel, rotor operations manager for Life Flight. But night vision goggles and new terrain avoidance and traffic collision avoidance systems known as TAWS and TCAS give pilots the ability to quickly and safely perform night operations.

“This is the nicest chopper we’ve had by far,” Steel said. “This is the one we wanted in the first place.”

The chopper is stationed at Kona International Airport and capable of covering the distance to KHC in eight minutes. Hilo Medical Center has an identical aircraft.

On Monday, the pilot, a flight nurse and flight paramedic transported a West Hawaii 4-year-old who had fallen out of a window. Last Thursday, a trauma case lifted off from the hospital at 2:30 a.m.

The helicopter is a miniature emergency room, said Lori Cannon, Rotor Wing Kona Base flight nurse. The craft is equipped with a 12-lead EKG, CO2 detection, intubation, and IVAC pumps and other emergency medical technology.

“We’re lucky to have this,” said the hospital’s chief financial officer, Dean Herzog. “One hour is a lot better than four hours, and one transfer a day is a lot.”

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