Hershey Medical Center's new Life Lion helicopter is 'like a mini-trauma center'
August 10, 2012
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    The new Life Lion helicopter is pulled out for display display outside it’s hangar at Penn State Milton S. HersheyMedical Center in Derry Twp. Thursday August 2, 2012. CHRIS KNIGHT, The Patriot-News

    New Life Lion Helicopter at Hershey Med Center gallery (6 photos)

    “My enjoyment of flying is flying with a purpose. Just burning up fossil fuel and making noise doesn’t do it for me,” the 58-year-old Miami native said.

    Turk finds plenty of purpose as chief pilot for the Life Lion helicopters, which make about 1,200 flights per year, with most involving transporting patients from accident scenes or between hospitals.

    On Thursday, he also exuded the satisfaction that comes with an upgrade to the Life Lion fleet.

    The new craft, which was on display outside a hanger near Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, cost $3.8 million. It joins a fleet of three and replaces a less-capable helicopter that was used when the other two were out of commission for maintenance.

    The copter can carry up to seven people in addition to a patient. Life Lion flights normally carry a crew of three. But there are occasions, such as when a medical team is being transported to collect a donated organ for transplant, when the extra space will be used, Turk said.

    It was built in 1994 by Eurocopter, a French firm. It formerly served corporate purposes for a Brazilian bank. The $3.8 million price tag includes the cost of equipping it for medical use.

    “It’s pretty much like a mini-trauma center … we have back here,” said crew member Beth Cate-Freeman, a registered nurse.

    New Life Lion Helicopter at Hershey Med Center

    Chief pilot Doug Turk, talks about the new Life Lion helicopter, as it was on display outside it’s hangar at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Derry Twp. Thursday

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    During flights, Cate-Freeman is strapped into a seat that allows her to be in physical contact with the patient at all times. A paramedic occupies a similar position.

    The standard flight crew includes a pilot, nurse and paramedic. All of the crew members, as well as the helicopters, rotate between the Derry Twp. hangar and one at Carlisle Airport.

    Turk is one of eight Life Lion pilots and has been with the crew for 14 years. The full crew is aroundt 35 members.

    The first Life Lion flight took place in 1986.

    Cate-Freeman was raised in Linglestown. She’s been a Life Lion crew member for eight years. Before that she was a trauma and emergency room nurse.

    She’s unique among her crew in that she once rode in Life Lion as a patient. Her flight, during which she was conscious, took place after a pickup truck crossed the highway and came into her lane on Interstate 81 while she was in nursing school.

    But she said she had already decided to work in emergency medicine, and the episode didn’t steer her toward the Life Lion crew.

    “I love this. I love the unpredictability,” she said. “If anything, it isn’t monotonous.”


    Date: August 2, 2012