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Students explore new helicopter

By Staff | Oct 24, 2014

Tim Chapman/PCT Ely Elementary sixth-grader Isaiah Bundy steps out of the new EMS helicopter from the Valley Med Flight program in Devils Lake.

Sixth-graders from Ely Elementary enjoyed a thrill Monday as a new EMS helicopter from Devils Lake visited Heart of America Medical Center.

Students had their hair blown back as the top-of-the-line helicopter – an Airbus A-Star 350B3E – touched down on the helipad at the northeast corner of HAMC. Some students had their minds blown too as crew members from Valley Med Flight shared facts about the aircraft.

Alex Skaalen, flight paramedic; Jared Hedland, flight nurse; and pilot Josh Axt roused interest in their field.

“It’s fun to interact with school-age kids,” Skaalen said. “It’s fun to show them what we’re proud to do and what we wanted to do as kids, and show our passion.”

Students fired questions at the crew: How does it start? How many years do you have to train? Has anyone ever fallen out? How long does it take?

Skaalen said it took the crew about 25 minutes to get to Rugby from Devils Lake. On average, the helicopter travels at 155 miles per hour. The 147-gallon tank burns about 55 gallons per hour. Skaalen assured students that no one has fallen out, but struck a bit of fear into anyone afraid of heights.

The A-Star 350B3E is the only helicopter model to reach the top of Mt. Everest, according to Skaalen.

Dante Thompson, a student in John Groves’ class, enjoyed the experience and learned more about the tail rotor.

“I never knew they had to rotate it,” Thompson said. “It’s pretty big!”

Groves was pleased to see the students engaged in the conversation.

“It shows something that they can possibly do later in life,” he said.

Valley Med Flight has one base in Sidney, Montana; five in North Dakota and three in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The original location is in Grand Forks.

“When we get a call, we try to be in the sky as soon as possible,” Skaalen said. “(Education), that’s what this appearance is for. We’re just paramedics and nurses like anyone else, just in a different vehicle.”

Skaalen said the Devils Lake crew serves a radius of about 150 miles.

He said his father was a volunteer firefighter. A passion for paramedic work was instilled when Skaalen, as a kid, joined his father on a call and witnessed a helicopter join an emergency response.

“I decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Skaalen said. “If we can, kind of, show (the kids) this is a possibility and you can make money doing it, that’s always a good thing.”

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