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Utah company sets up medical helicopter base in Moab

Published: Monday, Dec. 23 2013 6:11 p.m. MST

A Classic Lifeguard helicopter lifts off from the scene of an Aug. 16, 2013, crash on state Route 191 near Moab that left three people dead and injured four others. Classic Lifeguard, a Utah company headquartered in Woods Cross, has completed 48 medical and search-and-rescue flights in southeastern Utah since opening a helicopter base in Moab in July.

Utah Highway Patrol

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MOAB — Although he appears to be fairly calm, it's clear from the opening seconds of his self-narrated video that Ammon McNeely is in serious trouble.

"Well, that didn't go good," the well-known rock climber and BASE jumper says in the YouTube video he uploaded on Oct. 29.

"I probably lost my leg," McNeely adds, turning his camera to reveal a gruesome open fracture just above his left ankle.

McNeely did not lose his leg though — despite colliding with a cliff wall while BASE jumping near Moab — due in part to the work of a medical air crew from Classic Lifeguard.

"We're really familiar with this area, with the needs and especially with the challenging terrain and other issues that folks typically have when they need to call in a helicopter," Classic Lifeguard spokesman John Gottfredson said Monday.

That familiarity comes from Classic's 25 years of providing air ambulance services out of its primary medical base in Page, Ariz. The company, headquartered in Woods Cross, has bases in Riverton, Wyo., and Vernal as well.

"Moving to Moab made sense, because it really kind of connects this corridor," Gottfredson said.

Since opening its Moab base at the end of July, Classic Lifeguard crews have responded to an average of 10 calls per month, according to the company. That's everything from medical transfers to search and rescue operations, a service that makes a difficult job a little bit easier, Grand County Sheriff Steven White said.

"For the last few years we've been the busiest rescue team in the state," said the sheriff, who called the presence of a medical helicopter in Moab "a huge benefit."

"The faster that we can provide medical (care), the faster we can jump on searches, the more everybody benefits," White said.

Grand County search crews are well-equipped and well-trained to respond to a variety of different emergencies, the sheriff said, but reaching people in trouble has always been one of the biggest challenges they face.

Having a helicopter nearby changes that.

"On one search in particular, up on Poison Spider Mesa, they came in and worked with our search and rescue teams," White said. "Something that would have taken us six or eight hours, I think their total flight time was 12 minutes."

Classic Lifeguard air crews have been training alongside search teams since setting up shop in Moab. It's part of the company's ongoing commitment to serving the area, Gottfredson said.

"It's a great community," he said. "We've got people who live here and work for our company, so there was a lot of enthusiasm for opening a base here."

Email: gliesik@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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