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home : latest news : latest news September 15, 2014

2/22/2013 12:01:00 PM
Desert Air official fought to halt emergency helicopters from landing at hospital

Marty Bachman

BLYTHE - Desert Air Ambulance Service co-owner Jeff Gatchell sent numerous emails and met with Caltrans officials, urging them to stop emergency helicopters from landing at Palo Verde Hospital.

Hospital officials received a cease and desist letter from Caltrans on Wednesday stating the helipad does not comply with state regulations and they can no longer land helicopters there. Gatchell is the domestic and business partner of Palo Verde Healthcare District Board President Trina Sartin and the fixed base operator overseeing the Blythe Airport.

In a Jan. 30 email to Michael Smith, Aviation Safety Officer for Caltrans' Office of Airports, Gatchell offers a count of the number of helicopters landing at the hospital.

"In November, there were 14 landings, in December, 17, and 14 so far this month," Gatchell wrote.

"Being a pilot myself and having seen many 'helipads', I know that this area doesn't come close to meeting any regulatory standards for helipads. I won't go into too much detail here as I believe that you have a fairly good picture in your mind as to the layout of the area. Using this area for all hospital to hospital transports is a recipe for disaster."

Gatchell wrote that he knew EMS pilots that refuse to operate in the area, despite pressure from higher ups within their organizations and that options on approaches or landings were non-existent.

"Obviously, having a perfectly good airport within a few minutes of this facility is a much more prudent safety choice," Gatchell wrote.

He said he saw aircraft not permitted to do inter-facility transports in the county land at the hospital and that the only changes made to make the landings and takeoffs safer was the hospital having three staff members in green vest securing the area.

"I have a strong sense that there has been no training done with them," Gatchell wrote. "The perimeter still remains un-fenced, the surface is irregular and cracked, there are no lights defining the landing area, and the power lines on two sides are not marked.

"I hope this information will help you and your team move forward."

Gatchell concluded that he was acting as "a spokesman for many of our concerned citizens, as well as in the general interest of aviation and public safety."

Gatchell updated Smith on Jan. 31 stating he had a "short clip" of a Careflight departing a day earlier.

"Note the wires in that shot," he wrote.

In a second email sent that day, Gatchell wrote that at least three helicopter landings took place the day prior.

"I failed to mention the one before sunrise. Allen told me about it because it woke him up," he wrote.

Gatchell contacted Smith again on Feb. 4, stating that since the prior Wednesday, at least four helicopters had landed at the hospital, two from Careflight and two from Native Air.

"Actual count could well be higher since we are not sitting over there watching them into the wee hours of the morning," he wrote.

Again in an email dated Feb. 4, Gatchell wrote that he was driving in town that evening and happened to see the strobe flashing on top of the roof of the hospital, so he went over to watch a Careflight that landed at 8:20 p.m.

"There was no one outside securing the landing site," he wrote. "As I mentioned previously, this affirms my statement that the staff wearing the green vests only attempts to secure the area during the day (no police or fire presence either). When they finally cranked back up at around 2035, one of the crew got out while the machine was running and ran over to a gurney next to the hospital and grabbed an envelope that had been left on it (pt. chart maybe?). You'd have to see the whole thing to believe it. With the number of landings occurring here now (at least one per day), the odds of a catastrophic event occurring has increased exponentially. I hope I am not nearby when it happens."

On Feb. 13. Gatchell again contacted Smith stating that Careflight helicopters continued to land at the hospital.

"...in fact they came in on two separate occasions on Monday the 11th - once at 1115, and again at 2300. I was at the post office when the first one arrived (sitting in my truck). They approached from the south due to a north wind and in so doing flew over the vacant lot across the street from the hospital and next to the post office. It looked like a scene from "The Mummy" with the brown cloud that they created. The people that were outside the post office were turning their backs to the dust and/or debris in an effort to keep it out of their faces. I will expect there to be more complaints from some of the locals. Take care, Jeff"

Gatchell and Sartin's Desert Air Ambulance Service provides airplane transport service to out-of-town hospitals and is in competition with the helicopter services that previously landed at Palo Verde Hospital. Blythe Airport, which Gatchell runs, also stands to collect landing fees from helicopters that now must divert to the airport.

Download copies of emails sent to Caltrans from Desert Air's Jeff Gatchell

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @@ Gatchell

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @ hawkeye pierce

Are you a resident of the district? Do you plan on running against the candidates in a recall?

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @ Gatchell

"Gatchell wrote that he knew EMS pilots that refuse to operate in the area, despite pressure from higher ups within their organizations and that options on approaches or landings were non-existent."

Name one Helicopter pilot that feels this way. You can't because it's a lie. Every approach has an option, it's called a go-around. (deleted)

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement.

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @ @ he is not speaking for me

What Ambulance company also owns helicopters in Blythe?

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: Phantom Nose

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It is hard to imagine the twins and Gofer wanting to solve the problem their partner created. If they are just in it for themselves they won't do anything. Let's see what happens. Follow the money!

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @ just me

You know if you want to ask a question you are more than welcome to go to the next board meeting and ask. The meeting this Wed got cancelled because the attorney is unable to attend but I will make sure I post here when the next one will be with plenty of notice for you. It is really easy to sit at your computer and complain but the real question is if you will actually state your questions and concerns in public for everyone to see. I do it all the time.

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: Hawkeye Pierce

I have never in all of my years seen such a conflict of interests in local government as this hospital board. I am talking to any agency that will listen to find out how to get a recall of the three puppet board members. As soon as I find out all the legalities needed to start a recall, I will have petitions going around town. I only hope I get this figured out before their greed kills someone. How can anyone support them? You would have to be an employee, or brain dead. Enough is enough, please band together with me to send these puppets down the road. It could be your child, parent, spouse, or friend that needs that helicopter.

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: just me@not speaking for me

Are they going to fix the pad? Or will fixing the pad hinder her business and Lord knows she won't let that happen... another thing ,that would make to many people happy..

Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Article comment by: @ he is not speaking for me

Desert Air is profiting? Go ask the owner of the nursing home about who seems to be profiting from flights. We have an ambulance service that seems to be making decisions now instead of doctors according to her comments at a couple of meetings in the past couple of months. She had a resident with a non life threatening problem that the ambulance service decided that the patient needed to be flown out by a helicopter ( ambulance service that also owns helicopters) without the doctor even diagnosing the patient first. The nursing home had to go pick the resident up after they could not find anything seriously wrong at their own expense. Is that the kind of decisions we want being made by someone that is not a doctor? I do not! I am sure us taxpayers got to pick up that $40k plus dollar screw up. (deleted)

Site Administrator's note: A portion of this comment has been removed because it violated our Terms of use Agreement. Personal attacks are not tolerated, and are a direct violation of these Terms of Use.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: @not speaking for me.

the helicopters are banned? who banned them, and when? hope all of u see how gossip and lies get started and spread. helicopters can still land and fly out patients, they just can't land at the hospital until the pad is fixed.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: He is not speaking for me as a Citizen

I don't know which concerned citizen's Gatchell is speaking for, but he is not speaking for me. Maybe it is he and his friends / partners that are profiting from the helicopter ban.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: @ Bob Pratt

Are you for real! You are concerned about moving your car because of a patient in real need of medical care?
The FAA puts the responsibility on the pilot if anything goes wrong. It is pilot in command and if he feels safe he lands if not he does not.
Landing at the hospital is not dangerous. They need to correctly mark the landing zone, have a lighted wind sock and land zone. If more space is needed you enlarge the landing site by moving the doctors parking out to the north 40.
Patients come first!
If Jeff had an issue it should have been along time ago not when the hospital was looking at an exclusive contract for transports.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: I Believe Him

I believe jeff is only reporting this to Caltrans because of a safety issue, THE SAFETY OF HIS AND trinas POCKET BOOK.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: Bob Pratt

Sounds like the usual and accepted practices in Blythe have once again been disclosed. Shame on you Jeff Gatchell. How dare you point out that, like other organizations and entities in Blythe, is operating illegally, with discrimination, and without care or concern for the overall health and welfare of the community.
Among other things the helicopters and hospital have concerned me for over 30 years. I remember the time they had to have people move their cars from the parking lot every time they had a landing. This doesn't factor in the hazardous conditions of the landing zone to both aircraft and surrounding residences.
I researched it about 10 years go and was aware of the illegality of the condition. Per the status quo I was totally frustrated in any attempt to report it to the proper authorities. It was always another agency's responsibility. It was brought to the hospital and city government's attention without any progress or success. Jeff apparently found the proper agency.
For his actions, Jeff Gatchell should be forced to climb to the top of the scaffold, have the loop placed around his neck, his hands tied to a heavy object, and the medal of valor dropped on him.

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013
Article comment by: @ brown act violation

Once again misinformation from people that really do not know or care to just destroy thoe they do not like. They had a meeting last week. Remember they did not renew the cfo and cno's contract. Hired a consulting firm to help this town fix its mess we call a hospital.

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