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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Life Flight celebrates 35 years of lifesaving operations in the Intermountain West at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013.
It's all about the patient. We have the right vision. —Frank Thomas

MURRAY — It was Oct. 7, 1978, and Utah Highway Patrol trooper Ralph Evans had just been shot.

A teenage boy pulled a gun on Evans after he handcuffed the boy's father and was leading him to his patrol car on suspicion of public intoxication. The 13-year-old shot Evans once in the jaw and again in the back.

"In the ambulance, I felt every little pebble in the road. The pain was unbelievable," Evans said of his journey to Davis North Medical Center.

One bullet hit Evans' carotid artery, and it soon became evident that he needed more intensive medical care than the Layton hospital could provide. He was taken by Life Flight to LDS Hospital. All he felt on the flight was the takeoff and the landing, he said.

Life Flight celebrated its 35th anniversary Wednesday, and Evans was at the helicopter landing pad at Intermountain Medical Center to commemorate the event. His life-saving flight was among the first for the company that began helping the sick and injured on July 6, 1978.

Intermountain's Life Flight, originally based out of LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, was the seventh medical air transport service in the United States, followed by University Hospital's AirMed. In 1972, both companies offered medical transport by air, but contracted through Key Airlines for the flights.

"We congratulate them on their 35 years," said Frankie Hurst, program manager for AirMed.

"We definitely have a cooperative relationship with Life Flight," Hurst said, adding that the two companies share a common mission — "safe, quality patient care."

"It's all about the patient," said Frank Thomas, medical director for Intermountain Life Flight adult services. "We have the right vision."

Life Flight and AirMed mean critical patients in rural areas are able to receive the same quality of medical service as those in urban areas, according to Eric Kraus, a seven-year paramedic for Life Flight and a Salt Lake City firefighter.

Life Flight has seven helicopters, including three Agusta Grand aircraft bought between 2011 and 2012, and three airplanes.

Since 1978, Life Flight has transported 62,925 patients, who, if they stood side by side, could create a 20-mile line, flying them more than 10 million miles — equal to 21 trips to the moon and back, according to Intermountain officials.

Life Flight also is the only civilian medical helicopter or rescue service in the United States that the Federal Aviation Administration has certified to perform hoist/rescue missions. Life Flight has rescued 254 patients during its 204 air hoist missions.

Life Flight is based out of the Life Flight Operations Center near Salt Lake City International Airport and five Utah hospitals: McKay-Dee Hospital Center, Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, Dixie Regional Medical Center, Intermountain Medical Center and Primary Children's Medical Center.

Evans said he had heard of Life Flight in his work as a state trooper but never imagined he would be one of the patients transported. Now, he said, he thinks of his flight every time he sees a medical helicopter and wonders where they are headed and if they are up to the challenge of each emergency.

"Every time I see one fly over I think, 'Wow, what a bird,'" he said.

Beginning Wednesday, people were invited to "like" Intermountain Medical Center on Facebook for a chance to visit the Life Flight hangar, meet with nurses and paramedics, and sit in a helicopter.

Entries in the Life Flight VIP Tour will be accepted through midnight Sept. 5. Intermountain will announce the winner on Sept. 6.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com, Twitter: whitevs7