Helicopter pilot Dan Rudert is not sure that he could have saved Kristen Chase, who died while hiking with the Challenger Foundation last month.
"But, geez, I would have liked to have been given the chance," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday evening.Rudert flies a Bell Long Ranger for Classic Lifeguard Helicopters III, an air ambulance service in Page, Ariz., about 30 miles from where Chase, 16, collapsed June 27.
"We have a fully equipped air ambulance, licensed by the state of Utah as an ALS (Advanced Life Support) and we've got two paramedics on call 24 hours a day," Rudert said. And Challenger, a wilderness therapy program for troubled youths, knows the Page service exists, he said.
Frustrated by what he's read in the papers about the death, Rudert decided this week to say publicly that he doesn't believe Challenger employees did everything they could to help the girl.
"I don't want to see this happen again. If there's another serious medical problem, I want them to call the medical ship."
Rudert has contacted Kane County Sheriff Max Jackson, who confirmed his office is looking into the matter as part of an ongoing investigation of Chase's death.
Challenger Foundation President Stephen Cartisano said Classic Lifeguard has been unreliable in the past and that Rudert "doesn't know what he's talking about."
Chase, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., suffered exertional heatstroke while hiking on the Kaiparowits Plateau near Lake Powell. According to police, she collapsed about 4:30 p.m. and never regained consciousness. Challenger personnel accompanying her on the hike experienced technical difficulties with their communications equipment but were eventually able to radio the company's field office in Escalante.
The field office then called Paul Cox, a helicopter pilot for Bryce Canyon Airlines, a tour company. Cox flew to Escalante, picked up a nurse from the local clinic and then flew to the scene, some 50 miles southeast of Escalante, arriving about two hours after Chase collapsed, police said.
The girl was flown to Escalante, where a doctor pronounced her dead.
"We could have been to the scene in 25 minutes," Rudert said. "And we could have been giving her IVs and oxygen and clearing airways and all of that stuff. . . . We're almost a flying emergency room. . . . When you're not used, it tends to frustrate you."
Rudert said Classic Lifeguard, whose helicopter is identical to the one used by the University of Utah's Air Med, would have transported the girl to the hospital in Page because it is the closest. Though he won't say his service would have saved her life, Rudert said he believes her chances of survival would have been much better.
"Challenger says they brought in this helicopter and that looks fine and good, but what people don't realize is, (the Bryce helicopter) was not the best available alternative. It didn't have any medical equipment on board. It's not equipped for stretchers. . . . It's a scenic tour helicopter."
Rudert said Challenger knows about Classic Lifeguard because Cartisano hired him six or seven times last year, primarily to track down children who had run away from the program.
But Cartisano said it's news to him that Classic Lifeguard has paramedics on call. "In the past, they've had to fly to Escalante to pick up a nurse or a medic. So that's just a crock for (Rudert) to say they could have been there faster. . . . He's out to lunch."
Cartisano said that even if he would have known Classic Lifeguard had paramedics, he would have insisted that Rudert fly to Escalante to pick up someone who could show him where the victim was. Rudert, however, says he is familiar with the territory and could have found the scene based on a description and could have been in radio contact with Challenger staff at the scene.