NAVAL AIR STATION WHIDBEY ISLAND, Wash. – Search and Rescue (SAR) teams from Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island conducted three separate Medical Evacuations (MEDEVACs) between Thursday, Feb. 9, and Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. The first was from Friday Harbor Airport to Island Hospital in Anacortes, the second from Jefferson County Hospital to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and the third from Lopez Island to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett.
The first mission was for a high risk pregnancy patient in active labor at the PeaceHealth Peace Island Medical Center in Friday Harbor just after 1:15 a.m. on Thursday. After receiving the alert, the SAR crew of five thoroughly reviewed weather along the route, readied the aircraft, and launched just after two in the morning. Based on the potential for a birth in flight, the crew decided to take a second Search and Rescue Medical Technician (SMT) in order to provide advanced medical support to mother and child, should it be needed. The crew faced low clouds and driving rain, but visibility was good and they arrived at the island airport at 2:20 a.m. Once on deck, both SMTs conducted patient turnover with the local medical personnel while the pilots and crew chief reviewed weather for the next leg of flight. The crew determined that the best route to Island Hospital in Anacortes would be to circle south and then east of the San Juan Islands, in order to avoid low clouds to the north. The SMTs returned with the patient and were ready to depart for the hospital just before 3:00 a.m. The crew departed and flew to Island Hospital where the patient was delivered to a higher level of care at 3:15 a.m.
Naval Aircrewman First Class Justin Colon said, "Despite some low clouds on the way to Friday Harbor, we were able to fly clear of the weather and use our landmarks to safely transfer the patient."
The second mission occurred later that evening while a different SAR Alert crew was on a routine training mission in Crescent Harbor. The crew received notification of a MEDEVAC from the Jefferson County Hospital in Port Townsend, Wash. for an elderly female suffering from an arterial blockage. Since the crew was already at the end of their training flight, they returned to NAS Whidbey Island to refuel and pick up a gurney. While on deck, the crew reviewed weather and determined that because of the forecast low visibility, a patient transfer at Jefferson County airport would be the safest and most expeditious option. The mission was approved at 8:15 p.m. and the helicopter was airborne a minute later. Once off deck, the crew checked in with Jefferson County Fire/EMS and learned of a vessel reported to be on fire only three miles from their position. Due to their proximity to the vessel, the crew briefly halted their transit south and conducted a low pass over the boat, determining that it was not in distress and required no assistance. Continuing on their original mission, the crew landed at Jefferson County International Airport where an ambulance and other emergency personnel were waiting. After conducting a thorough patient turnover, the crew launched just before 9:00 p.m. for the flight to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where they landed 15 minutes later.
The third mission occurred Friday morning and was for a patient suffering from cardiac issues on Lopez Island. The SAR Alert crew of six launched at 11:36 a.m. and arrived at the Lopez Island airport 10 minutes later, helped by a strong tailwind. Once on deck, the two SMTs conducted patient turnover and loaded the patient onto the helicopter. The crew departed the island airport just after 12:15 p.m. and proceeded directly to Snohomish County Airport in Everett, Wash. On this leg, a strong headwind slowed the flight down, but they landed at the airport 30 minutes after takeoff and met an Advanced Life Support (ALS)-capable ambulance for patient transfer to Providence Regional Medical Center.
These were the sixth, seventh, and eighth MEDEVACs of 2017 for NAS Whidbey Island SAR, which has also conducted one search. In 2016, the unit conducted 51 missions including 14 MEDEVACS, 24 Rescues, and 13 Searches totaling 53 lives delivered to a higher level of care.
The Navy SAR unit operates three MH-60S helicopters from NAS Whidbey Island as search and rescue/medical evacuation (SAR/MEDEVAC) platforms for the EA-18G aircraft as well as other squadrons and personnel assigned to the installation. Pursuant to the National SAR Plan of the United States, the unit may also be used for civil SAR/MEDEVAC needs to the fullest extent practicable on a non-interference basis with primary military duties according to applicable national directives, plans, guidelines and agreements; specifically, the unit may launch in response to tasking by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (based on a Washington State Memorandum of Understanding) for inland missions, and/or tasking by the United States Coast Guard for all other aeronautical and maritime regions, when other assets are unavailable.