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Benefis Mercy Flight celebrates 40th anniversary of first takeoff

Benefis Mercy Flight celebrates anniversary of first takeoff
Posted at 9:33 AM, Jan 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-19 11:33:23-05

In Montana, the vast and diverse landscape is what attracts so many here. For those seeking adventure and those who call the Treasure State home, the abundant space means limited options for critical care.

A new, life-saving tool made it possible for skilled health professionals to reach rural parts of Montana. On January 16th, 1983, the first Mercy Flight flight took off from Great Falls. Forty years later, the Mercy Flight averages 900 to 1000 flights each year. The fleet consists of an airplane, a helicopter and a ground ambulance.

"As a crew, we stand on the people who started this. They were some of the greats in this state and region. It's the job with the best view," says Mark Long, a flight paramedic on the Mercy Flight. He has been part of the crew for over 16 years and recently completed his 2,000th flight.

The Mercy Flight allows nurses to put their skills to use one a statewide level. Anna Pradere has over 9 years of nursing experience and is training for the Mercy Flight, "I've looked up to these guys. It means being able to do what I do best."

Benefis Health Systems' Mercy Flight helicopter
Benefis Health Systems' Mercy Flight helicopter

Not only can the Mercy Flight reach remote locations, but it also helps to boost the infrastructure of rural hospitals when needed.

Scott Schandelson, Benefis's Emergency Services Manager, explains, "We may double or triple the type of technology they have." On a national level, the average flight time for an emergency helicopter is 15 minutes. According to Schandelson, that number is nearly tripled in Montana.

The team consists of healthcare professionals, pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, administration and other support staff working together to save lives.