Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
AirMed helicopter sits on helipad atop new parking structure during a ceremony at University Hospital.

University Hospitals and Clinics welcomed home its air ambulance program Friday in a ribbon-cutting ceremony that marked completion of the new helipad directly east of the emergency room.

For a year, AirMed has been operating from a temporary landing site about a quarter-mile from the hospital. Each time a patient was flown in, they've had to dispatch their ambulance-equipped van to meet the chopper and transport the patient to the hospital itself.

"We're excited to be back at the helipad," said Brian Simpson, interim program manager, who quipped the air-rescue team has clocked about "100,000 miles on the van in quarter-mile increments," shuttling patients.

The helipad, located on top of a new parking structure, marks completion of the second phase of a $130 million expansion that included expanding the Eccles Critical Care Pavilion and a new five-story Patient Care Pavilion. The critical-care project was completed in July, and the patient pavilion will be finished in summer 2009.

The hospital says AirMed's teams fly more than 2,500 missions each year, transporting patients in critical condition to University Hospital. The fleet includes four helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft, and they range over a five-state region.

That's the largest geographic region of any hospital-based program in the country. And they're also the best at what they do, according to the Association of Air Medical Services, which named AirMed its International Program of the Year. During the ribbon cutting, U. officials also unveiled plaques honoring that designation and in memory of four AirMed crew members who have died while rescuing others. Individual plaques honor pilot Stan Berg, paramedic Tim Hynes and nurse Shayne Carnahan, who were all killed, along with patient David Anderson, in 1998. The fourth plaque honors pilot Louis Merz, who died on duty in 1983.

The hundreds who gathered on the helipad for the event included school and other dignitaries, hospital staffers and neighbors. But two had a special story to tell about AirMed.

In 2003, Vaughn and Jennifer Kinder were on a pleasure flight when they crashed in the Cedar Mountains. Jennifer, in particular, was gravely injured, perhaps moments from death when AirMed arrived and Simpson, a nurse, jumped out and started working on her. "They flew in and saved my wife, who wouldn't have survived," said a tearful Vaughn Kinder. "They cut her out of the airplane. I would do anything for Brian and the whole crew."

Standing on the helipad near the very helicopter that brought her to safety, Jennifer Kinder added, "It's a miracle we're here today. And they are the miracle."

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