Sunday, January 26, 2014

A new STARS in the southern sky

New STARS AW139 lands at Pincher Creek Municipal Airport
T. Lucas photo (other photos/video T. Lucas/C. Davis)
Chris Davis and Toni Lucas with material from

Members of Alberta's Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) dropped in for a visit at Pincher Creek Municipal Airport Saturday morning January 25, flying in the newest addition to their fleet, a donor-funded AgustaWestland AW139 medium twin turbine helicopter.

The STARS crew visited Pincher Creek's airport before moving on to Fort Macleod, Cardston, and Lethbridge.

What passes for a "brisk" breeze here didn't deter a throng of interested people from attending the event. Pilot Gary Bergen had some statistics of the conditions for the Pincher Creek landing: "28 knots, gusting to 37. Call that 50 km/hour, gusting 60, 65. The upper limit is 50 knots."

Local first responders with STARS crew (in orange and blue)
The crowd included staff from Pincher Creek Hospital, Pincher Creek Search and Rescue,  and a large contingent of Pincher Creek Emergency Services members, including some from Lundbreck and Beaver Mines. Emergency Services Chief Dave Cox was on hand, as was Deputy Chief Patrick Neumann.

Flight Paramedic Scott McTaggart with Search and Rescue dog Ruger
and handler Cindy Mauthe - a bit breezy for posing

According to Pincher Creek Emergency Services Chief David Cox the new helicopter has a variety of different capabilities. "It can't land at this hospital" he said, explaining that the landing pad at Pincher Creek Hospital is not large enough to land the AW139, which is significantly larger than the STARS BK117 model, which are the ones we're accustomed to seeing here.

A peek inside the cockpit
While showing off the rotorcraft STARS Flight Paramedic Rob Odney explained that there is much more room in the AW139 than that provided by the Eurocopter BK117 model. "It's almost double the space." He said that there is room for two people to be transferred and up to three personnel. The height in the back is considerably different as well. "Some of the smaller staff can almost fully stand up inside."

"It lets us fly further a little bit farther with the extended flight range that we have, as well as service the little towns that we had a bit of difficulty getting to in the past," Odney continued. He said one of the main purposes of this trip was to allow people "to see it, and put hands on it, and say it actually is real".

"I think it is important and it's going to make a big difference in patient care."

Lucas liked the clear window area pictured lower right:
"That shows the engine."

"Our standard crew is two pilots, with a paramedic and a nurse, and then we have the capabilities to tale a flight physician with us. If we need to, we can configure the back to take two patients."
Given the weather conditions we were enduring in order to have this conversation, it seemed logical to ask Odney how the AW139 fared in extreme wind situations like the ones we frequently experience in southern Alberta. "It loves the wind," he replied. "It's very fast, a lot faster than our other machine. So it's going to expedite getting down to these wrecks and whatnot in the small communities and back to the circuit that much faster."

"It was about a 32 minute trip," Odney said of the flight from Calgary to Pincher Creek. "It lets us get there a little bit faster, and go farther."

Pilot Gary Bergen said he has landed in Pincher Creek before with other aircraft. Comparing the new helicopter to the BK117 he said "They're both good. In this one, you can't really feel the wind, it's very stable."

Acting Landing Zone Officer Nichole Boissoneault

Pincher Creek Emergency Service's Nichole Boissoneault was experiencing her this first time as acting Landing Zone Officer. "I was really nervous at the beginning, but it wasn't bad. It was so windy, I was just glad that it worked out, being my first time." The duties of a Landing Zone Officer, as described at, include "providing a coordinated interface with incident/scene command. Responsibilities include site selection, preparation, protection, control, and air to ground communication.

Flight Nurse Kellie Ann Vogelaar was enthusiastic about the AW139. "We can carry two patient loads with this helicopter. It can fly further, it can fly faster. It also has de-icing capacity as well, and that is a bit of an issue." Vogelaar also got the chance to visit with some of her family at the Pincher Creek airport during the intermission between landing and takeoff. Those relatives, members of the Kettles family, were in attendance with a very personal reason to thank their STARS.

Tye and Maxum Kettles, mom Stacey, Flight Nurse Kelly Ann Vogelaar
How STARS made a difference for one young Pincher Creek boy and his family

Maxum Kettles had a very personal reason for coming out to see the new STARS helicopter.  "Have you ever been in one of those before?" I asked him.  "Yes," he said, a little bit shyly.  Mom Stacey Kettles filled in some of the details for him.   "When he was born, he was really sick, he had a cardiac condition," she explained.  Maxum was born at Pincher Creek hospital on November 7, 2009.  "They came in and they had to take him to Calgary."

"We didn't know but when he was born he had a  transposition of the great vessels of the heart.  So he was plumbed backwards, so he was really sick.  So they flew him to Calgary, and he had five days of NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) there, then to Edmonton, where he had open-heart surgery.

Maxum and Tye Kettles
Now he's dancing like crazy!" interjected Maxum's older brother Tye, giving Maxum a huge hug.  Tye knows a bit about medical conditions.  "The only reason I'm alive is because of insulin, because I have diabetes," he told me.

"We feel pretty fortunate because of STARS," said Stacey.  "They are a part of the reason that our boy's here.   Now he's four and doing very well due to STARS as well as Pincher Hospital, good health care, and luck, and God."

Pincher Creek and Lundbreck paparazzi cleverly disguised as first responders
FAQs and Figures (

  • “The significant financial capital needed to purchase the Alberta-based helicopters initiated the largest fundraising campaign in STARS history, raising over $26.5 million,” said STARS’ President and CEO, Andrea Robertson at an unveiling ceremony at the STARS Calgary base on October 24, 2013. “We have now completed the vision of bringing this new helicopter to Alberta thanks to the incredible support of our donors, and partnerships with the provincial government, Alberta Health Services, and emergency services.”
  • The new helicopter is the second of two new donor-funded AW139s purchased by STARS for service in Alberta.   The first one arrived in December 2012 and is based in Edmonton. According to the STARS website the helicopters will enhance access to emergency pre-hospital critical care through more rapid response, an expanded service area, a larger medical interior, powerful lift capacity, and a de-icing system that will enable flight during adverse weather conditions.
  • The AW139 helicopters are larger than STARS’ existing BK117 helicopters, weighing 6,800 kg, and measuring 16.67 metres from front to back. The BK117s measure 13 metres front to back.
  • The AW139s cost approximately $16 million each, including $14.2 million for each helicopter, and $2 million for each of the medical-interiors.
  • The AW139s were manufactured in Philadelphia, PA by AgustaWestland.
  • Normal cruise speed of the AW139 is 150 knots (278 kilometres per hour). The helicopter can fly up to 300 km/hr depending on wind and weight of the helicopter. The helicopter and crew are of most benefit to patients within a one-hour flight range (the “golden hour”).
  • STARS current fleet of eight BK117 helicopters fly at a speed of approximately 120 knots (225 kilometres per hour) from bases in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnipeg.
  • STARS flight crews consist of a pilot, a co-pilot, a nurse experienced in emergency/ICU care, and an advanced life support paramedic. A STARS emergency transport physician is also available by telephone for every response, and is airborne in the helicopter when medically necessary.
  • STARS has operated from a Calgary base since 1985. The Edmonton base started operations in 1991 and the Grande Prairie base opened in 2006. STARS has expanded further to include bases in Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg.
  • STARS collaborates closely with the fixed wing and ground ambulance services in the province for a strong Chain of Survival and coordinated pre-hospital care response.
  • They have flown over 22,000 missions since 1985.
  • The crew is on stand-by 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be in the air in less than eight minutes. 
  • The STARS Emergency Link Centre is an advanced 24 hour communications centre. When a call comes through a one-number system, communication specialists can link multiple callers to determine the most appropriate response including medical advice, medical referral or transport.
  • Albertans are not billed by STARS for care and transport in the helicopter.
  • STARS is a non-profit charitable organization whose funding needs are met through private donations received from individuals, service groups, businesses and corporations, and through collaborative affiliation agreements with Alberta Health Services.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous26/1/14

    Pretty thankful for STARS! Our family has used their services 4 times.


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