New helicopter is aiding in basin emergency operations |

New helicopter is aiding in basin emergency operations

Jim Grant / Tahoe Daily Tribune CALSTAR flight nurse Mark Haase demonstrates how a seat can be moved forward in the air ambulance service's new helicopter to make room for two patients.

After a successful trial run in the Lake Tahoe Basin, a type of emergency helicopter boasting the latest technology soon will see wider use in California.

CALSTAR (California Shock Trauma Air Rescue), a nonprofit air-ambulance service with eight bases spread across Central and Northern California, recently bought a refurbished, nearly $4 million MD-902 Explorer helicopter.

The helicopter has been stationed at the South Lake Tahoe Airport since August to determine how the aircraft performs in challenging mountain conditions.

Because of the effectiveness of the Explorer, CALSTAR has entered into contracts to purchase four more of the MD-902s and station them at bases outside the Lake Tahoe Basin.

The helicopters’ two-patient capacity provides greater service to people needing airborne emergency transportation, said Tom Pandola, CALSTAR’s South Lake Tahoe director of base operations.

The extra capacity recently was used for the first time after an early-morning car collision on Pioneer Trail that left two people needing airborne emergency transportation, Pandola said.

But the extra capacity is not the only benefit of the new helicopter, he added.

Rather than a traditional tail rotor, the helicopter uses “state-of-the-art” NOTAR technology, which stabilizes and directs the helicopter using blasts of air. The technology decreases the hazard of traditional tail rotors striking objects near a landing zone, Pandola said.

“It’s just a safer aircraft,” Pandola explained, adding the helicopter is significantly quieter, faster and more efficient than previous models of aircraft.

But don’t be surprised if you see CALSTAR’s BO-105 helicopters still in use.

“We’ll still use those as backup aircraft,” Pandola said.

Pandola explained that after about 20 years, replacing the BO-105s makes sense because they reach a point where they require increased maintenance and downtime.

A BO-105 again will be CALSTAR’s primary aircraft in the basin near the end of February, when the Explorer is flown to other CALSTAR bases. Crews will train on the new aircraft before the arrival of the emergency service’s four additional MD-902s.

Pandola expects the MD-902 to be back operating in the basin by late April or early May.

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