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It could easily be an episode of the popular television show "Emergency 911."

A young water skier, clipped by the propellers of a motor boat, was quickly moved to the red sandy shore of Lake Powell, where a helicopter ambulance was waiting.Within minutes the youth was airborne - transported to Richfield where the helicopter medical team rendezvoused with LDS Hospital's Lifeflight. The critically injured youth immediately was flown to the Salt Lake hospital where he underwent surgery.

The senseless accident cost him one leg. It was amputated by the sharp propellers of the boat that had been trailing him.

But thanks to the quick response of Classic Lifeguard III, his second leg, though severely slashed, was saved.

The Utah water skier was lucky. Another hour could have made the difference - perhaps between life and death.

Yet only during the past two seasons have millions of visitors to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area had access to the air life support service, which between May and October rescues and treats ill, injured, wounded persons who cannot be safely moved or transported on the ground quickly enough.

While Salt Lake City alone has two air ambulance services, Classic Lifeguard III, from its base in Page, serves the entire area north of Flagstaff, Ariz., and south of Price to St. George and Durango, Colo.

That includes nearly 200 miles of navigable waters and 1,960 miles of shoreline - 13 percent of the total 1.2 million acres of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

More emergencies expected

Last year the helicopter service received one or two emergency calls a day. But chief pilot Dan Rudert expects that number to dramatically increase in 1990.

Federal government budget cuts have resulted in fewer park medics to assist the expected 3.8 million visitors. Yet with a 50-foot drop in the lake's level, many fear there will be more accidents, especially spinal and neck injuries to cliff divers unaware of shallow waters.

But Classic Lifeguard III, a service of Salt Lake-based Classic Helicopters, can be airborne within eight minutes of being dispatched by park or law enforcement officials.

The company's jet-powered Bell 206 Longranger helicopter, capable of traveling 150 mph, is on call 24 hours a day. It can rescue injured patients in narrow canyons, on rugged shorelines and in remote areas.

Survival chances increased

"In addition to rapid transport time, Classic Lifeguard III has the ability to land on the site at a medical emergency scene, inter-hospital transfer and aeromedical-to-ground ambulance intercept. We are capable of reaching most destinations in this area within 20 to 40 minutes," Rupert said. "If someone got hurt at Rainbow Bridge, it would take two hours by boat to Wahweap. We can do that in 30 minutes. And research shows that an air ambulance increases the critically ill patient's chances of survival by 52 percent."

Classic Lifeguard III, patterned after Lifeflight, is equipped and configured with state-of-the-art medical equipment including oxygen, suction, heart monitor and defibrillators, emergency medications, head immobilizers and traction devices.

It's administered by a trained on-board aeromedical crew, consisting of two experienced flight paramedics or nurse-paramedic teams, certified in advanced cardiac life-support, advanced trauma support and aeromedical flight physiology.

Claude Stoker, a 20-year paramedic who recently retired from Gold Cross Ambulance Service, said Classic recruited the best - including 18 nurses and paramedics from different ambulance services and fire stations from Ogden to Provo.

The Wasatch Front specialists travel to Page once a month for three-day stints.

Where they transfer patients depends on the severity of the injury.

"We look what is best for the patient. I think, `What would I want if it were me?' " Rudert said. "If the patient is stable enough, the injury severe enough, we fly straight to LDS Hospital or the University Hospital - a major trauma center - instead of a smaller hospital."


(Additional information)

Safety in the water

-Don't drink alcohol and drive a boat. It's illegal

-Don't ride on the bow of the boat. It's now also illegal

-Life jackets are a must on boats, jet skis and wind surfers

-Avoid boat fires by sniffing for gas fumes before starting engine

-Before swimming from boat, turn off the motor

-Choose a quiet swim site away from boat traffic

-Don't dive from cliffs; water levels are constantly changing

-Display orange flag to warn other boaters when a skier is in the water

-Navigation lights are required between sunset and sunrise

-Don't battle a storm; seek shelter in protected area

-If boat capsizes, stay with it; most people who swim don't make it