But the average response time has improved dramatically since an air ambulance service opened a new base of operations in Moab, according to Grand County Sheriff Steve White.
Classic Lifeguard recently moved one of its medically configured Bell 407 helicopters to town, and in the few months since that time, it has already helped local law enforcement and Grand County Search and Rescue on half a dozen rescue missions.
“They’ve been a huge asset to us,” White said Dec. 20.
Classic Lifeguard’s helicopter team members were there, for instance, not long after Ammon McNeely almost severed his foot during a horrific Oct. 28 BASE jumping accident off Kane Creek Boulevard.
“They’re the ones who transported him to Grand Junction [for life-saving medical care],” White said.
In another incident, White said it took the company’s team about 12 minutes to reach a disoriented man who went missing in the Poison Spider area.
Frigid weather unexpectedly rolled in on the man, and rescuers were concerned that he might be at risk for hypothermia.
White estimated that it would have taken a conventional search and rescue team anywhere from six to eight hours to find the man. But Classic Lifeguard’s crew tracked him down in a matter of minutes with the help of night vision technology.
“It’s very nice to have that quick response,” White said.
The Woods Cross-based company got its start as a chartered tourist flight service that offered scenic trips over Bryce Canyon National Park. Its mission broadened over time to include medical evacuations in the Lake Powell area, as the National Park Service called on Classic crews for help.
Classic Tour Helicopters officially became Classic Lifeguard in May 1988, and since that time, the company expanded its base of operations from the Utah-Arizona border to Vernal and Riverton, Wyo.
The company’s latest expansion made sense because no one else has maintained a permanent, on-the-ground presence in Grand County, according to Zach Henderson of Classic Lifeguard.
“There really hasn’t been anyone out there, which is why we decided to move to Moab,” he said Dec. 12.
Company CEO Tony Henderson said in a statement that Classic Lifeguard is committed to serving Moab over the long haul.
“We continue to invest in our operations and the community and this move reinforces our commitment to operating in the safest possible environment with the greatest need for the community,” he said. “We look forward to being an even more important part of the solution for our community. We are grateful for the opportunities this move will have not only [for] our company, but the entire area.”