WENATCHEE — The trip from Pangborn Memorial Airport to Chelan takes just 15 minutes. Leavenworth is 12 minutes away and Quincy only takes 10.

With its twin-engine helicopter, Airlift Northwest can reach a critical patient, perform emergency medicine and transport them to a hospital faster than virtually anyone.

And now, after a 12-year absence, the organization on Monday established a permanent base in the Wenatchee Valley.

“Being able to respond quicker for the transport needs of Confluence (Medical Center) and the other facilities in Central Washington was important to us,” said Jonas Landstorm, the organization’s Central Washington regional manager. “So when we looked at the places where we could put in an additional aircraft, we felt that Wenatchee would be a good central location to be able to support the area.”

Airlift had a base here from the 1990s to 2007, but since then they've served the Wenatchee area using aircraft stationed in Yakima or the Seattle area. 

But now there’s a crew stationed at Pangborn 24/7, always ready to take off from their base next to the Executive Flight building.

The nonprofit organization is run by the University of Washington’s health care program, said Base Manager Suzanne Beck.

“Just because we’re under that umbrella doesn’t mean we take everyone to Seattle. We take patients wherever they need to go,” she said. “In this area, Confluence is a very highly functioning facility, so most of the volume from our general area will come into here.”

In addition to bringing in patients from emergency scenes, Airlift also transports between facilities.

That’s why the organization’s new base in Wenatchee is so important, Landstorm said.

“You have Omak, Brewster, Lake Chelan, Quincy and all these smaller facilities. So it’s not just transporting to Seattle, but also being able to provide quick and efficient transports into Confluence from these smaller, outlying facilities,” Landstorm said.

Previously, Airlift’s closest base was in Yakima. Life Flight, another medical flight service, doesn’t have bases closer than Moses Lake or Brewster, according to its website.

And timing is everything when it comes to emergency medicine, Beck said. Airlift’s goal is to be in the air within 5-7 minutes of a dispatch.

That takeoff process, which involves weather and other safety checks, can go up slightly in the winter, she said.

“Right now, the way we have our quarters designed, we can grab our helmets, the meds, and the blood are all right there,” she said. During shifts, the crew stays and works in a small manufactured home right next to the runway.

They can receive dispatches either from a 911 call center or directly from individual agencies or hospitals, which use a phone or computer app to request transport.

“We try to make it as quick as possible, especially for those outlying providers who need to have their hands taking care of whoever needs it, not having to worry about making a billion phone calls,” Beck said.

For each flight, Airlift operates with one pilot and two nurses — one with a background in pediatrics and one in adult medicine.

In the field, patients are loaded into the belly of the helicopter on a stretcher. In the air, the nursing staff has access to a range of medicine and equipment, but the goal is to keep the patient stable while getting to a hospital as fast as possible.

Nurses receive training on emergency procedures for the aircraft and ongoing safety lessons, Beck said.

“It’s a nice marriage between aviation and medicine, which is why I love it,” she said.

Reilly Kneedler: 661-5213

kneedler@wenatcheeworld.com or

on Twitter @reillykneedler