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Gundersen debuts new emergency medical helicopter

The craft is based at new Decorah Municipal Airport hangar

Gundersen Health System's new emergency medical helicopter takes flight this week.

The GundersenAIR craft, which features the latest technology to increase patient and crew safety, will live in a new hangar at the Decorah Municipal Airport.

"Basing a helicopter in Decorah helps us to better serve our service area in Northeast Iowa and Southwest Minnesota by shortening response times and improving patient outcomes," says Stephanie Hill, program director of GundersenAIR.

GundersenAIR has stationed a helicopter in a rented space at the Decorah Municipal Airport since June 2016. GundersenAIR leaders partnered with the City of Decorah and Decorah Municipal Airport Commission to construct the new permanent hangar that opened March 4.

The new 65-foot by 60-foot facility with adjacent helipad features an automatic door that opens in seconds. Crew quarters also are on site. 

It will house the new EC145 e-lite helicopter, the world's first of its kind with a Genesys avionics 3-axis Single Pilot Instrument Flight Rules system that adds additional weather capabilities to operate when visibility is reduced, said Terri Wenthold, GundersenAIR Chief Flight Nurse.

"The 3-axis SPIFR is an extremely stable auto pilot platform that delivers added safety to our patients and crew by adding a high degree of precision to a FAA filed flight path, helping our pilots navigate safely in low visibility conditions," Wenthold says.

The helicopter also is equipped with a system that transmits real-time flight data via satellite to the Metro Aviation Operational Control Center, where flight systems and performance are continuously monitored for patient and crew safety.

GundersenAIR's service area encompasses a 150-mile radius of La Crosse, including communities throughout western Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeastern Minnesota. The second helicopter in the fleet will permanently base at the Sparta-Fort McCoy Airport beginning on April 8.

A crew of 25 critical care nurses and specially-trained flight paramedics and eight pilots complete about 700 flights annually.

With two helicopters providing service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, GundersenAIR can:

  • Better cover Gundersen Health System's 21-county service area.
  • Handle greater volume of flights from regional hospitals and accident scenes.
  • In most cases, shorten response times, especially for remote locations.
  • Improve patient outcomes for time-critical emergencies.

The public will be invited to an open house at the new Decorah airport hangar this summer. Details will follow.

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