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‘Last Call’ salutes pilot

Cowley’s love of flying, helping others is recalled

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It's called "Last Call," a tribute reserved for those who die rescuing strangers.

Friday, the dispatcher's voice rang through the silent auditorium at Brighton High School, summoning Brent Cowley for his final rescue flight.

That Life Flight rescue mission just a week ago, June 7, ended tragically as Cowley died when his helicopter plunged into the ground near Wasatch Boulevard and 5600 South. The cause is still under investigation.

"Last Call" is hauntingly familiar to members of the Intermountain Health Care Life Flight team. Five months ago, they sat in a similar auditorium across town and heard the dispatcher summon paramedic Mario Guererro and pilot Craig Bingham, killed in a Jan. 10 accident that also injured flight nurse Stein Rosqvist. And it was clear the public memorial service Friday afternoon was as much to comfort the remaining Life Flight team members as it was to honor Cowley and his family.

But Life Flight team and Cowley apparently go hand in hand, from the affectionate and often-funny stories that were shared about a man who was a husband and father first, then a pilot and prankster.

Since 1978, when Life Flight began, it has carried 42,000 patients and flown more than 5 million patient-related miles.

Many of those miles belong to Brent Cowley, who went on dozens and more likely hundreds of rescue missions. He racked up 8,000 hours of flight time in his career, much of it working for Life Flight, a dream job that combined his love of helping others with his pleasure in team work and the sheer joy of flying.

Just minutes before the helicopter crashed, Cowley had pulled a female hiker off the side of Mount Olympus. The day before, he flew an 85-year-old woman in heart failure from Rock Springs to LDS Hospital and took a newborn in respiratory distress from Pioneer Valley Hospital to Primary Children's Medical Center.

On June 2, he was there as a 51-year-old injured woman was pulled from a car accident in Price, and he flew her to Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo.

A few days before, he'd hoisted a 40-year-old man, himself a search and rescue pro, from Battle Creek Canyon in Pleasant Grove, just hours after flying to Idaho to pick up a 20-year-old woman suffering complications after giving birth. He took her to McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden.

That hoist rescue was one of 30 completed by Life Flight, which became the first civilian group to do a hoist rescue on May 29, 2001.

Among the speakers Friday, two stood out: Denise Ward and Brian Allred. She was the flight nurse when the crash occurred, he was the paramedic. Both believe that it was only through Cowley's skill and sacrifice that they survived.

"If you know what he did, it tells you volumes of what he was," she said.

Craig Cowley, his brother and a Life Flight pilot himself, laughed about Brent growing up. "I was a grown-up, mature and sophisticated high school sophomore or junior and he was a pesky 7-year-old brother," he said during the memorial. "It was like having a pet mosquito." But their shared love of flying and rescue work brought them very close later, he said.

Cowley was the guy who made sure the greeting committee included someone with a camera when a patient got sick on the new paramedic. "We have a Kodak moment," he cheerfully announced. Who playfully called the dispatcher on slow days and pretended to be a rotating variety of characters requesting rescue. He didn't, of course, fool anyone. He earned the nickname "Flow," and to tease him, a prankster set up an "Ask Flo" letterbox. Cowley responded by answering their letters.

"He teased a lot and he was teased a lot. He could take it, and he loved it," Cowley's big brother said.

E-MAIL: lois@desnews.com