Monday was National Aviation Day, and STARS Air Ambulance is recognizing the pilots who have helped save lives over its 30 years in existence.
One of those is Aircraft Captain Andy Stewart, who first got his glider pilot’s licence back in 1982.
He says he sometimes has to pinch himself when he gets up in the air, because he loves what he does so much.
Stewart recalls a recent accident involving a train south of Grande Prairie, when they actually landed right on the tracks.
“We probably went down about 120 feet through the trees, managed to get ourselves sort of straddling the tracks and deliver our flight paramedic and flight nurse to the accident scene right away. It was really, really challenging flying, and I’ll have to admit a lot of fun; it’s just great to be able to deliver that rapid medical care.”
Across its three bases in Alberta, STARS’ pilots have more than 316 combined years of experience.
Each mission they head on has both a captain and first officer on board.
STARS is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and since the Grande Prairie base opened in 2006, nearly 17-hundred patients have been treated.
Stewart argues the use of helicopters that can fly directly into a scene has been huge for the Peace region.
“There was a gentleman helping to build a pipeline [who had a] heart attack. It was a 20 minute flight for us; it was about a four and a half hour drive, so industry uses helicopters for a reason, we use it for the same reason. It can really make a tremendous difference.”
Throughout their shifts, crews aim to be able to launch within eight minutes of a call during the day and within 10 at night.
They’re also constantly checking weather conditions.
Photo: STARS Air Ambulance landing on train tracks for a scene call, courtesy Andy Stewart