Va. Police showcase new medevac helicopter

The $7 million, silver and navy aircraft was unveiled Friday afternoon


By Allie Robinson
Bristol Herald Courier

ABINGDON, Va. — It’s more of a flying intensive care unit than an ambulance, with room for two patients and three medical attendants.

The new Virginia State Police helicopter that took to the skies this summer will help save lives across the region, said Sgt. John Ratliff, with the Virginia State Police’s Med-Flight program.

“It will be able to get from here to Grundy in about 18 minutes,” he said Friday, standing in the police hangar at Virginia Highlands Airport. “We’re here to provide the [Med-Flight] service. Medevac is the primary mission and reason for being here.”

The $7 million, silver and navy aircraft was unveiled Friday afternoon, and although it has been in the hangar since May, has just started to be used, after the staff was trained and the helicopter stocked with supplies, Ratliff said.

The helicopter boasts several new state-of-the-art features, including night vision goggle capability, several global positioning units, terrain avoidance technology, onboard weather systems and a glass cockpit that Ratliff said was the “latest and best technology.”

It also features a hoist capable of holding 600 pounds, which is twice the capacity of its current hoist.

“Now we can send someone down to rescue someone and pull them up,” Ratliff said.

This helicopter is the first bought for the area since 1993, which is mostly used today for law enforcement and searching for people. The primary purpose of the new chopper will be medical evacuations, Ratliff said, and an identical helicopter was bought to assist another Med-Flight team in Richmond, Va.

A paramedic is on duty at all times, and the medical team is staffed through a partnership with Wellmont Health System.

Anita Ashby, the system’s director of flight services, said her staff was excited about the new aircraft, because its increased space allows for better healthcare.

“In the smaller aircraft, nurses can only reach from the waist up,” she said. “In this one, we can provide care from head to toe.”

She said the roomier aircraft allows medical staff to start care sooner, because they have room to work within the aircraft. And that, she said, decreases the amount of time it takes to get wounded people to the hospital.

Several local politicians were on hand for the aircraft’s unveiling, and all said they were proud to now have the equipment in the region.

“Over 24 years there are probably few events where I’m as proud of the equipment we’re putting into the hands of our personnel,” said retiring Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol. “I’m very proud Virginia is able to deploy an aircraft of this nature.”

Delegate Phillip Puckett, D-Lebanon, said the helicopter will provide what is most needed in critical situations – time.

“When you’re in Buchanan County, or Dickenson or Wise and you need transport immediately, this gets the job done,” he said.

The aircraft also features a 30 million candlepower spotlight, which can be used in search-and-rescue missions or to apprehend people on the run.

“Coming from a state police background, there’s nothing more reassuring than when you’re chasing someone through the woods, and you need backup, and one of these helicopters comes flying over,” said Delegate Bill Carrico, R-Independence. “It’s the eye in the sky.”

Virginia State Police offer all services – including medevac – free of charge to the public, Ratliff said.

And, said Pokey Harris, Washington County, Va.’s emergency management director, a police helicopter was instrumental in assessing the tornado damage caused by the April storms.

“They gave us that visual we needed,” she said of the photos taken of the storm’s path from the air. “And, with the major interstates that run through the area, it’s beneficial to all our global citizens who travel through every day.”

Delegate Joe Johnson, D-Abingdon, said that as a Korean War veteran who flew in the Air Force choppers of the early 1950s, he is impressed by the new police helicopter.

“I’m proud of Virginia State Police and Med-Flight and what you do for the citizens of this area,” he told medical attendants and pilots. “You’re entitled to have the very best, and you have the very best. That means a lot, speed – it saves lives or tracks down the person you’re trying to find or makes the rescue.”

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