Life Flight Fleet to Be Operated by New Firm

Times Staff Writer

Life Flight--San Diego’s emergency trauma system helicopter service--has signed a contract with a different aeromedical firm and will replace its three-helicopter fleet with a more powerful model.

The current model, BO 105 CBS, used since Life Flight’s inception in 1980, is manufactured by Messerschmitt-Bolkow Blohm of West Germany. They are leased under a contract with Evergreen Helicopters Inc. of McMinnville, Ore. The new model, BO 105LS, also made by the German firm, will be leased by Omniflight Helicopters Inc. of Janesville, Wis.

The changing of aeromedical companies has nothing to do with the May 9, 1986, crash on Interstate 5 in La Jolla involving a BO 105 CBS, said Sheri Smith, media coordinator for the UC San Diego Medical Center.


New guidelines for expected aeromedical service were put in motion two years ago, months before the Life Flight crash, she said, adding that UC Regents mandate a process by which the medical center’s purchasing department must open for rebidding of aeromedical service every seven years.

Additional Pilots

“Omniflight was chosen because of the services it could offer, working within the medical center’s budget,” Smith said. “Starting January, we’ll have three newer, more powerful helicopters and two more pilots--currently we have six pilots under contract with Evergreen.”

The $2.5 million per year contract, a result of the two-year bidding process, will be in effect for five years, with two additional one-year renewable options; it includes the three helicopters, eight pilots and three mechanics, Smith said.

Seven aeromedical companies sent in proposals for bidding and only four met the medical center’s criteria, she said. Out of those four, Omniflight’s helicopters had larger engines and transmissions. The increased power of the helicopters is helpful when working in tightly confined landing zones.

Mary Cunanan, administrative director of Emergency Medical Services, noted that while most emergency helicopter medical services transport patients between hospitals, 98% of Life Flight calls are made to the scene of an emergency.

Currently, Life Flight’s helicopters are manned with two nurses or a nurse and paramedic, a pilot and two crew members. Each aircraft is equipped to transport two patients. Currently, two helicopters are on call around-the-clock from their bases at UCSD Medical Center and Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. The third operates out of Gillespie Field in El Cajon on weekends only.