Fifty years ago, on March 19, 1970, Maryland State Police flew its first helicopter medevac mission, marking the beginning of half a century of life-saving air ambulance service in the state.
That mission was flown by Maryland State Police “Helicopter 108,” a Bell 206 JetRanger crewed by pilot Cpl. Gary Moore and medic Trooper First Class Paul Benson. The aircraft and crew were called to the scene of a motor vehicle accident with injuries at the intersection of Baltimore Beltway and Falls Road.
The two troopers flew the injured motorist to the Center for the Study of Trauma, known today as the University of Maryland R. Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
“It took about three weeks before we got our first call because it was all new all over the state,” said retired lieutenant colonel Gary Moore in a Maryland State Police video published online March 19. “That particular morning in 1970, Paul [Benson] and I were the duty crew and landed on the highway, picked that patient up and took him down to the trauma center. That patient did live.”
The successful air ambulance mission marks the formal expansion of the Maryland State Police into emergency medical services and the first time a non-military agency transported a critically-injured trauma patient from a scene by medevac helicopter.
“We are a proud partner in an amazing system of emergency medical services personnel and resources that includes the dedicated fire and EMS personnel on the scene and the incredible nurses, doctors and support personnel at trauma centers and hospitals throughout Maryland,” Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. Woodrow Jones III said during a recent ceremony marking the anniversary. “Since that first flight 50 years ago, the aviation technicians, support staff, flight paramedics and pilots of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command have never wavered in their commitment to provide medevac, search-and-rescue, law enforcement and homeland security services to the residents of our state and those who visit here.”
In the half-century since that first mission, the Maryland State Police Aviation Command has completed at least 180,000 missions and transported more than 150,000 patients. The Aviation Command currently has a fleet of 10 Leonardo AW139 helicopters that are assigned to seven sections located in Allegany, Frederick, Baltimore, Prince George’s, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties.
The aviation program has not been immune to loss during its long run. In 50 years, one airplane and four helicopter crashes claimed the lives of nine state troopers and one emergency medical technician.
The Maryland State Police Aviation Division medical mission profile began in November 1960 with a Hiller UH-12E helicopter used primarily for police missions but also performing “medical support.” That entailed transporting patients such as heart attack victims and expectant mothers during snowstorms, or other emergencies. Medical rescues were performed with the Hiller as early as 1966, but without comprehensive en-route care.
The Department then flew a fleet of JetRangers until the late 1980s, when it upgraded to the Eurocopter (now Airbus) AS365 Dolphin helicopter, which added a second engine, increased speed and enough space for two patients. In 2013, the program again upgraded to the AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) AW139.
Additional safety equipment and measures were incorporated, along with the addition of a second pilot and a second medical provider to the standard flight crew. The round-the-clock mission of Aviation Command has grown to include aerial rescue, homeland security support, search-and-rescue and disaster assessment.
Civilian pilot-in-command Craig Thompson has witnessed the evolution of the Maryland State Police medevac program during his 46 years with the Department. After more than 10 years as a road trooper, Thompson transitioned from a cruiser to the cockpit of a JetRanger. Still a pilot with Aviation Command, Thompson has flown all three models of medevac helicopters.
“The JetRanger was fun to fly, but not certified IFR [instrument flight rules], even though we flew in less than VFR [visual flight rules] weather all the time,” Thompson said in a statement. “The Dauphin was fast and instrument capable. The AW139 was a big jump from the Dauphin. Our current aircraft is much bigger, faster and much more capable.”