Medevac deployment stirs concerns

January 23, 1991|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Correspondent John W. Frece of The Sun's Annapolis Bureau contributed to this article.

ANNAPOLIS -- Late one night last April, Donna Lee's 11-month-old boy, Jake, started thrashing uncontrollably, lost consciousness and briefly stopped breathing. She called for help, and within minutes a state police helicopter based in nearby Centreville arrived at her Queen Anne's County home to speed Jake across the bay to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Nine months later, Jake's condition is still undiagnosed. Although he is on medication to control the severity of his seizures, Mrs. Lee fears that he could again need quick-response medical evacuation.

But as of New Year's Day, the single-engine Bell Jet Ranger helicopter at Centreville -- and another Jet Ranger at Patuxent River Naval Air Test Center in St. Mary's County -- have been grounded from nighttime flying because of state police safety concerns. Mrs. Lee wants the state to find the money to provide nighttime medevac service again.

"A human life is worth it to me," she said.

Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland legislators -- including House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent -- and rescue squad members brought similar concerns yesterday to a meeting of Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg's Maryland Executive Helicopter Advisory Committee.

Mr. Mitchell said the state's budget crunch ruled out buying new helicopters. But he urged that the state's $39.8 million fleet of nine twin-engine Aerospatiale 365N-1 Dauphin II helicopters be redeployed to base one overnight on the Upper Shore.

Despite a 1989 consultant's study that deemed the Centreville and Patuxent River bases expendable with the high-speed French copters covering the state, Mr. Steinberg pledged to "do something" to ease residents' fears -- and, presumably, Mr. Mitchell's political concerns.

Among alternatives under study, said John Lang III, executive director of the advisory committee, are:

* Leasing more twin-engine helicopters -- safer than the Jet Ranger for night flying but less expensive than the Dauphin II -- and basing them at Centreville and Patuxent.

* Moving the fleet's "ready spare" copter from Martin State Airport in Middle River to Centreville at night. The state police's nine Dauphin II's are based at six sites, with one "ready spare" and a couple out of service for maintenance.

* Operating two Dauphin II's at Martin at night, with one available for Upper Shore calls.

* Transferring a Dauphin II to Centreville and basing a Jet Ranger at Martin Airport.

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