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Medical helicopter returns to base at Vernal hospital

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 6:57 p.m. MDT

A Classic Lifeguard medical helicopter sits on the helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in Vernal on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. A neighbor's noise complaint to the FAA had led to the helicopter being temporarily relocated to Vernal Regional Airport. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News) A Classic Lifeguard medical helicopter sits on the helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in Vernal on Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. A neighbor's noise complaint to the FAA had led to the helicopter being temporarily relocated to Vernal Regional Airport. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

VERNAL — A medical helicopter forced to relocate after the Federal Aviation Administration received a single citizen complaint in August is back on the helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center.

"When I see that helicopter there I know that if I've got an emergency we can't take care of here, we can get that patient where they need to be in a very timely manner," Dr. Bruce Daniel, director of the hospital's emergency department, said.

Classic Aviation's medical helicopter was based at Ashley Regional for about a year, with its crew staying in a home less than 100 yards from the helipad. The arrangement allowed for rapid response times, Daniel said.

"It makes a big difference having them here," he said.

But in August, the FAA received a complaint from one of the hospital's neighbors, who claimed the daily flight operations were not only noisy, but unsafe.

The helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in Vernal is seen from the air Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, in Vernal. A neighbor's complaint to the FAA in August led the hospital's air ambulance service to relocate its helicopter from the helipad to Vernal Regional Airport. The FAA has since allowed the medical helicopter to return to the hospital helipad. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News) The helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in Vernal is seen from the air Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, in Vernal. A neighbor's complaint to the FAA in August led the hospital's air ambulance service to relocate its helicopter from the helipad to Vernal Regional Airport. The FAA has since allowed the medical helicopter to return to the hospital helipad. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

The complaint brought an FAA inspector to Vernal and prompted the agency to make a "strong recommendation" that Classic Aviation relocate to a hangar at Vernal Regional Airport, according to company president Tony Henderson.

"Whether we get a letter or a strong recommendation, we obey," Henderson said in August, when asked about the decision to move farther away from the hospital.

That recommendation, however, was reversed after another FAA visit to the helipad in September, Henderson said. 

"We went through the helipad and they could see that it was a safe place to operate and they passed it off," he said. "We run a very safe operation and the FAA knows that."

Classic Aviation's pilots have been instructed to take alternating routes in to and out of the helipad in an effort to address what Henderson characterized as "mainly a complaint about noise."

A Classic Lifeguard medical helicopter takes off from Vernal Regional Airport for a training flight Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. The air ambulance service had to move from its helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in August after a neighbor complained to the FAA about noise. The helicopter was allowed to return to the hospital helipad in September after a second FAA inspection. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News) A Classic Lifeguard medical helicopter takes off from Vernal Regional Airport for a training flight Monday, Oct. 1, 2012. The air ambulance service had to move from its helipad at Ashley Regional Medical Center in August after a neighbor complained to the FAA about noise. The helicopter was allowed to return to the hospital helipad in September after a second FAA inspection. (Geoff Liesik, Deseret News)

"We want to be good neighbors," he said.

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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