Community learns more about Dare MedFlight at open house event

Published 8:22 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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A clear sky and warm weather helped contribute to a successful Dare MedFlight open house at the Duvall-Willoughby Hangar on Driftwood Drive in Manteo on Saturday, March 25.

“It was a stupendous day and we are glad the weather cooperated,” said Dare County EMS director Jennie Collins. “It’s always good to have a large segment of our community come out to see and ask questions about what we do.”

A key draw to the event was the Airbus H145 twin-engine light utility rotorcraft helicopter. Sporting a small footprint, large cabin interior, flight range of close to 400 miles and air endurance time of more than three hours combine to make it a star performer in the Dare County Emergency Medical Services equipment tool box.

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While most people only get brief views of the helicopter as it passes overhead, or from a safe distance during patient pickups or deliveries at The Outer Banks Hospital, Saturday’s event allowed children and adults an opportunity to climb into the vehicle and even sit in the pilot’s seat.

According to Collins, Dare MedFlight truly is an important part of the county’s ability to get patients who have life-threatening or other serious medical conditions that exceed local hospital capabilities or resources to a facility that can take care of them.

When time is of the essence and vital to a patient’s recovery, it’s easy to see the value when a trip to get a patient to specialty centers for trauma, burns or pediatrics that might take hours by traditional ambulance transport can be done in a matter of minutes by air.

Collins went on to say the helicopter can and has been used for more than life-saving medical transports, including searches for lost or missing people in support of law enforcement missions.

There was, however, plenty more to see than a state-of-the-art helicopter.

“We even had two prior patient survivors attend today,” said Collins. “One was flown by helicopter and the other was transported on the ground by ambulance.”

In addition to hangar and ambulance tours, there were several children and adult activities as well as several MedFlight crew members standing ready and available for any assortment of questions about what’s required and what takes place when responding to medical events that involve transporting patients to medical facilities by air and by land.

Since the event spanned the noon lunch period, food was available as well.

Officials estimated that there were more than 100 attending the open house event.

Dare County began operating Dare MedFlight in 1975 and is one of only three county-owned primary mission aeromedical operations that exist in the nation.

Today the crew includes five pilots, two full-time mechanics and 12 flight technician paramedics. Normal patient transport flights will see a crew of one pilot, two paramedics and one patient.

After a two year hiatus due to COVID restriction, the open house returns as an annual event scheduled as close to March 26 as possible.

It was after dark on March 26, 1989 that while on the way back to Dare County after taking a patient to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital in Norfolk, Va., pilot C.C. Duvall, 53, and medical technician Stephanie G. Willoughby, 34, were killed when their helicopter’s rotor system collided with a newly-constructed and unlit cellular transmission tower near the Intercoastal Waterway at Coinjock.

A National Transportation Safety Board report said probable cause(s) of the incident was completion of the top 100-foot section of the 240-foot tower near sunset without electrical power or beacon, and that the supervisor failed to advise flight services of the tower height and that a beacon was not in operation.