Before a mercy mission takes off for Argentina, a philanthropist's heartfelt offer of help must be backed up by the hard grind of planning.
Technicians fitted medical equipment into a corporate jet belonging to Jon M. Huntsman on Thursday afternoon, preparing it for the flight to return a severely injured LDS missionary to Utah. Meanwhile, planners at LDS Hospital's Life Flight Center worked on medical and logistical needs.The jet will take off early next week for Buenos Aires, where it will pick up a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Orin Voorheis, Pleasant Grove, who was shot in the head April 9 during a robbery. He was in a coma for two weeks, but recently he has responded to stimuli and has attempted to open his eyes.
"The latestd word is (it will leave) 8:30 Monday morning," said Huntsman spokesman Don Olsen. University Hospital in Salt Lake City confirmed that Voorheis is expected there next Thursday.
The Gulfstream III, a twin-engine turbo-fan jet, has a range of 4,715 miles before refueling and can carry 14 passengers. On the Argentina flight it will need to stop only once in each direction for fuel. A smaller private jet would need at least four stops each way.
"Mr. Huntsman has donated the aircraft . . . and the pilots," said Sandy Brush, director of adult transport for Life Flight, who was interviewed at the service's operations center in LDS Hospital. The hospital will supply the medical specialists.
Besides Voorheis, the jet will carry three pilots, two nurses and a respiratory expert. Equipment includes a ventilator, blood-pressure and cardiac-monitoring gear, medication and intravenous fluid pumps.
Brush said Life Flight's goal always is to "match the crew with the aircraft and the equipment to what the patient needs." Life Flight has both fixed-wing aircraft for longer missions and helicopters for short-range flights.
Because Argentina is far beyond Life Flight's usual hop, which can be to almost anywhere in the United States, Huntsman's jet is just what's needed. Smaller jets must refuel so often that the flight to Buenos Aires would be unreasonably delayed. Commercial airliners in this country don't have facilities for intensive medical care.
Life Flight fixed-wing planes are stationed at the Salt Lake International Airport and the St. George Airport. "We have crews ready to go at a 20-minute notice for these flights that are within the United States," Brush said.
The service has made a few flights out of the country to pick up patients, she said. "We have to be sure the teams have passports. We have to be sure that the aircraft can make it to the location with a reasonable number of stops."
For 15 hours, the Gulfstream and its crews will be enroute to Argentina. After a layover, the return trip will be just as long. Altogether, they will be gone for three days.
The usual Life Flight expedition is five or six hours, "so the difference with doing the international-type flight is planning for the length," said Brush.
In past international flights, some problems arose with local authorities.
Dr. Frank Thomas, Life Flight's medical director of adult transport services, said one trip to Santo Domingo to pick up an LDS missionary who was injured in a car accident involved terrible delays. "We were held up in Santo Domingo due to customs clearance. In fact, we spent five hours on the tarmac with, I would say, a moderately sick patient," Thomas said.
No such difficulty is expected this time. LDS Church officials have worked with the U.S. Embassy in Argentina to smooth the way, and Huntsman's experienced travel arrangers also are on the project.
Also, Buenos Aires is a sophisticated city with a top-notch hospital, Brush said. "They're used to dealing with the type of things he (Voorheis) would need now."
Huntsman spokesman Olsen said Friday, "The real heroes in these things are, first of all, this young missionary who's hanging in there, as he is, and then, the doctors and nurses." The Huntsman organization is simply providing the transportation, he said.