...And I was just telling The Boss about how the medevac flights had dropped off. Somehow, I knew it wouldn't be long until we were called again. I wasn't wrong. Got the call Sunday morning at 10:30. An MVA (that's police/medical people short-hand for motor vehicle accident).
We have a total of...oh, eight, maybe nine cars/trucks on Guanaja and maybe as many small motorcycles, most of them on the road between Savannah Bight and Mangrove Bight. I personally have been in the back of a stake-body truck over there, jammed in with a bunch of other guys, women and children, thinking to myself that if the driver so much as goes off into a ditch it's gonna be ugly.
These people here do not know how to drive. There are no driver education schools. They have no sense of "keep right." Many guys assume that they can drive a boat, so driving a car should be a piece of cake. One of the things I have feared is that with the proliferation of cars on Guanaja there would be accidents. There'll be single-vehicle accidents (car runs off road into tree), vehicle/vehicle, and vehicle/pedestrian accidents. With these accidents are going to come injuries.
But we have just a couple of medical clinics here, and they can provide only a limited amount of care. Anything more serious than a few stitches and you're in trouble, bub. Which is where we come in: There are no commuter airline flights in or out of Guanaja on Sundays, so the helicopter is really the only realistic way off the island. The wind has been blowing lately, and the seas have been miserably rough. Boat rides can be downright dangerous for otherwise healthy people. Hit a big wave while sitting in the wrong position can throw your back out, big time. (Don't ask my how I know. But I do not sit down in rough water anymore; I only stand.)
What scares me...and I mean that literally...is that the number of vehicles here will grow faster than our medical facilities can handle the inevitable accidents. I.E., people are going to die. It's as simple as that. As great as the helicopter is, it can't work miracles. Ours is not one of these "flying emergency rooms" like a lot of air ambulances today. With ours, we yank the seats out and put a stretcher in and go, baby!
But we are not a commercial operation. Plus, our availability is not guaranteed. The lack of a small part can keep us grounded for a protracted period of time. It weighs heavily on me. I'd hate to have to turn a flight down for someone with a dire need. Luckily this helicopter is pretty dependable. It's an incredible ship, and I've grown quite fond of it.
As a side and lighter note, I should point out that the marvelous FH1100 helicopter was the first helicopter used as a dedicated air-ambulance in the United States way back in 1969. It was the model chosen for a special year-long demonstration in the state of Mississippi, funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. It provided 24/7 statewide helicopter air ambulance coverage. You can read about it here on this page of the factory's website www.fh1100.com (but basically I just told you all about it). It's an interesting story, and it proved the value of using helicopters as air ambulances - as if that needed proving. Now, nearly forty years later they are commonplace in virtually every community, even tiny little Guanaja, Bay Islands, Honduras. Sort of.
During Project CARE-SOM, the FH1100s and its medical crews were often the first ones on the scene after the police. "Snatch and run." When I worked at the factory I got to know one of the pilots who flew on the project, and the stories he could tell!
Things have changed. These days, when the "EMS" (Emergency Medical Service) helicopter is usually called to a scene, it will not be the "first-responder." There will always be ground medical crews there who'll stabilize the injured and prepare them for transport, whether it be air or ground. At that point the decision will be made. This just makes good medical sense.
The guy yesterday is the father of one of our workers. He was on a motorcycle that somehow came together with a car at a blind spot in the road. And they said he was hurt bad - needed the helicopter ASAP. I hustled out the door to get the helicopter ready and get my stuff together.
The rendevouz point was the soccer field in Savannah Bight, exactly the same place I dropped off Marcos when I brought him up from La Ceiba. I've mentioned before that I don't like these "site-landings" as we call them. The helicopter always attracts a lot of attention and draws a big crowd. There are no police here, so needless to say there is no crowd control. There is always the danger of someone walking into my tail rotor, so I'm extremely paranoid.
As I circle over the soccer field, I see the crowd around the injured man, and more headed that way from all compass points. I sigh to myself; it's going to be a zoo. When I delivered Marcos home, it was pandemonium as soon as I shut down. Surprisingly, oddly, the mob is somber and extremely well-behaved. They respectfully stand back and let the guys do their work of loading the man into the ship. And the man is in pretty bad shape, they did not exaggerate. Perhaps the people are aware of the gravity of the situation. Kids do mill around, but they give the helicopter (which I leave running) room. It's strange.
I assure my employee that I will have his father in the hospital in 45 minutes. He looks at me gratefully and says thanks. The man's wife climbs in next to her husband and we beat-feet out of there as fast as my little helicopter will go.
The actual flight is uneventful. In fact it is a beautiful day and flight. I can see the mainland as soon as I take off. And it strikes me that as great a flight as this is, my passengers cannot enjoy it. Alas, that's the dichotomy of the air ambulance.