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On Board: Air Idaho crew prepares for busy summer

Published On: May 15 2013 08:31:58 PM CDT
Updated On: May 16 2013 12:52:01 PM CDT

Caleb James reports.

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho -

This summer, thousands of will flock to eastern Idaho's rugged terrain for camping, hiking and four-wheeling. But Idaho's backcountry often proves to be very unforgiving.

On Wednesday night, our station took to the sky with a team of caregivers you won't find in a hospital. They work up in the air.

If you live in eastern Idaho, chances are you've crossed paths with the Air Idaho Rescue helicopter.

Hundreds of times a year, the Air Idaho Rescue helicopter has lifted off from Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.

"It's the quickest way to get help in the backcountry," said Air Idaho nurse Doug Kinney.

Summer is here, and the Air Idaho crew is gearing up for a busy rescue season.

Thousands of thrill seekers hit the 11,000 acres of shifting white quartz dunes west of Saint Anthony every year on board dune buggies and ATVs.

It takes the Air Idaho crew about 10 minutes to respond to an emergency at the dunes.

Twenty more minutes, and the crew can be in Driggs, scanning the wilderness for injured hikers in the back-country.

"You're looking at the different terrain and the trees before you actually come in for a landing," said Air Idaho Captain Blake Larsen.
 
At the helm of a 2-ton airborne ambulance, Larsen's job gets gritty long before the medical team springs into action. Before anything else can happen, Larsen has to find a spot to land.

Once Larsen touches down, an onboard nurse like Doug Kinney takes control.

"We do a pretty good job in this very confined space," said Kinney. "We're just used to it."
 
The aircraft is an emergency room on rotors. Kinney works with cutting edge equipment at 150-miles-per-hour, thousands of feet above eastern Idaho.

"When we load a patient, as you can see here, we load them into this tiny little tunnel of an area," said Kinney.

Within minutes, a patient is loaded, in the air, and on the way to EIRMC.

But in all that wilderness, how does Air Idaho find the injured?

A combination of GPS and tower direction is crucial for the crew.

But there are ways to tell Air Idaho's life-savers where you are, before you even leave home.

"We send you a little card," said Kinney.
 
It's a program called the Rural Registry -- a landing site instruction card adventurers can turn in to Air Idaho Rescue with location information.

"You fill that card out with coordinates, and if you get in trouble, we can fly right there," said Kinney.

The registry can shave lifesaving minutes from an Air Idaho response time. It could make a life-or-death difference.

"If you're so far out in the backcountry that you can't get help from 911, we're your best option," said Kinney.
 
Sometimes, it's the only option.

To register for the Rural Registry, visit the EIRMC Air Idaho webpage: http://eirmc.com/service/air-idaho-rescue.

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