Helicopter confusion after train crash rescue

An Air Evac helicopter is pictured in this undated photograph.

Confusion reigned over the skies above Blessing Hospital Friday morning as a rescue helicopter carrying a man with serious injuries spent several minutes waiting to land.

A train struck Terry Lake's truck about 8:50 a.m. in Marion County near Palmyra. A Hannibal-based Survival Flight Inc. rescue helicopter responded to the scene. The helicopter would transport Lake to Blessing Hospital in nearby Quincy, Ill. for treatment of what the Missouri Highway Patrol called â??serious injuries".

The Survival Flight pilot began broadcasting to Blessing at 9:26 a.m. saying it had a 45-second estimated time of arrival at the hospital's helicopter pad on the Broadway side of the 11th Street campus.

Blessing spokesman Steve Felde said the hospital's emergency room dispatch center didn't receive Survival Flight's alert of an incoming patient.

The Survival Flight helicopter hovered over the Blessing Hospital helipad for about six minutes as Blessing officials attempted to move the Air Evac helicopter off the landing pad.

â??When it became apparent to the Emergency Center staff that a patient was incoming, the landing pad was cleared as quickly as possible,â?? Felde said.

Air Evac spokeswoman Julie Heavrin attributed the confusion to the Survival Flight communication radios which were not programmed to communicate with Blessing Hospital dispatchers.

â??The hospital didn't know they were coming in until they were above and hovering,â?? she said. â??Several Air Evac helicopters fly in there because it's a trauma center. Usually they give them enough notice so that they can move the helicopter so the other helicopter can land.â??

Survival Flight CEO Chris Millard said that his company's helicopter radios might have been set to a frequency that did not provide proper alert tones to Blessing's staff.

â??We have radio in that aircraft that are extremely sophisticated,â?? he said. â??The tone may need to be reprogrammed.â??

Felde said that Blessing is reviewing its communication procedures. Millard added that his company would likely meet with Blessing Hospital to discuss how to ensure future issues don't occur.

â??We will fly over and meet with the hospital and find out what protocol they want to follow,â?? he said. â??Every hospital has a different protocol.â??

Adams County Ambulance Director Paul Davis stressed that in incidents involving serious injury or trauma, minutes can save lives. Davis couldn't speak directly to the events surrounding Friday's train crash.

â??Obviously time is of the essence,â?? he said. â??Is that the difference between disability or not, or death or not? I don't know.â??

O'Fallon, Mo.-based Air Evac uses Blessing Hospital's helicopter landing pad, but isn't directly affiliated with Blessing or its partners. Until August it was the Tri-State area's primary air rescue service.

That's when Survival Flight Inc. entered the picture. The Glendale, Ariz. company signed an agreement to base its helicopter rescue service at the ambulance Marion County Ambulance District Headquarters on U.S. 61 North in Hannibal, Mo.

â??They hate the fact that we're even alive,â?? Millard said. â??A lot of times local companies get scared of new things. We just hope we can serve the community.â??

Survival Flight operates Missouri rescue services in Festus and Kennett.

A Quincy Air Evac employee who answered the phone Friday dismissed the notion that the two companies compete with one another.

â??We do what's best to serve the community,â?? she said.