New Medical Helicopter in Service in North Carolina

MANTEO, N.C. – Dare County’s new medical helicopter can fly in tropical storm winds and guide itself through fog and darkness, pitting the latest in flight technology against the tough Outer Banks environment.

The H145 Airbus is set to begin its service next month, said chief pilot Chad Jones.

The current medical helicopter responds to an average of 300 calls annually in Dare County – the largest in North Carolina with 1,500 square miles. Roughly 75 percent of that is water.

The chopper responds primarily to cases of strokes, severe heart attacks and trauma.

The beaches from Hatteras Village to Duck stretch for 80 miles, hosting some 300,000 additional people on a given summer day. Many are elderly or have health problems. Saturday traffic hinders emergency vehicles when beach house residents change for the week. Storms often breach N.C. 12. The Bonner Bridge is routinely shut down for maintenance. It closed for nearly two weeks in 2013 for emergency repairs.

Funding for the $9.4 million Airbus, which can last up to 30 years with software upgrades, was first budgeted in 2012. The cost will be spread over 12 years.

The old helicopter is expected to sell for $1 million when its service ends next month.

The Airbus sat in its hangar Thursday in Manteo as a Federal Aviation Administration official and a mechanic tested parts and systems.

The new helicopter carries the identification N401MF in honor of the badge number of C.C. Duvall, the Dare County medical pilot who crashed in 1989 when he hit a wire connected to a radio tower flying in heavy fog. He was returning from a patient delivery to a Hampton Roads hospital. Paramedic Stephanie Willoughby was also killed. The hangar is named after them.

Jones climbed into the cockpit excited about the features of the new aircraft compared with the model in service since 1989 sitting outside.

“What you’re going to see is state-of-the-art,” he said. “We’ve made a quantum leap.”

The dash features three computer screens capable of warning the pilot of dangers.

The Airbus can cruise faster and is able to travel in winds up to 50 knots, Jones said.

The cabin has more room with better heating and cooling for the patient’s comfort. More powerful engines and rotor blades make the helicopter less noisy.

“It’s quieter, it’s larger, it’s beautiful,” said George Farah, deputy chief of Dare County Emergency Medical Services.

Jeff Hampton, 252-338-0159,

No posts to display