Critical-care aircraft to be based in Yakima

YAKIMA -- When Yakima's most critically ill patients have to be airlifted to Seattle hospitals, they have had to wait for a plane to first be dispatched from elsewhere.

But that changed Monday when Airlift Northwest stationed a twin-engine Gulfstream Turbo Commander with a crew of two pilots and two critical-care nurses at Yakima Air Terminal from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week.

In addition to Airlift Northwest, Central Washington is served by Northwest Medstar and Life Flight Network. But until now, none has been based in Yakima.

Having a crew day-based in Yakima will mean getting patients to complex care hospitals in Seattle fast, said Chris Martin, executive director of Seattle-based Airlift Northwest.

Until now, if Airlift Northwest got a call from a Yakima hospital, it typically took about 10 to 15 minutes to take off from its base at Boeing Field, south of Seattle and about 23 minutes to fly to Yakima. Once here, the crew had a about a 10-minute trip to the hospital to pick up the patient, Martin said.

"If it's a patient who needs the critical care expertise of the operating room, or is bleeding to death, (30 to 40 minutes) can make a big difference," Martin said.

While day-based in Yakima, the crew will serve much of Central Washington, including Wenatchee, Ellensburg, Moses Lake and other communities.

Airlift Northwest has six full-time bases throughout the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, including helicopters in Bellingham, Arlington, Seattle and Olympia.

The Yakima day crew will start its day at 11 a.m. in Seattle, check equipment and take off for Yakima within 10 minutes in the Turbo Commander, which can fly up to 200 miles per hour.

Statistically, the hours between 11 a.m. and 11 p.m. are the busiest times for patient transports in Central Washington, according to Airlift Northwest.

In six months, Airlift Northwest will evaluate demand and if volume is strong enough, it could open a 24-hour base in Yakima, Martin said.