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New MAMA helicopter visits Mission Hospital McDowell
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New MAMA helicopter visits Mission Hospital McDowell

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Mission Health’s new MAMA helicopter touched down Wednesday morning at Mission Hospital McDowell in Marion so local leaders, paramedics and the news media could get a close-up look at this new and improved air ambulance.

MAMA stands for Mountain Area Medical Airlift. For many years, Mission Health’s MAMA helicopter has transported critically injured or ill patients to the main campus in Asheville. A helicopter trip on MAMA can mean the difference between life or death in a very serious situation.

Now, Mission Health has a new EC-145e helicopter to serve as MAMA. It will be placed into service at the beginning of December. Before it's officially in operation, the MAMA crew is showing it off to the communities it will serve.

Wednesday morning, the MAMA helicopter landed at the helipad in the back part of the Mission Hospital McDowell campus. Hospital officials, paramedics with McDowell EMS and reporters from The McDowell News were there to greet it and the crew.

It is larger than the previous helicopter used as MAMA and that means it has more room for the patient and the crew, according to John Grindstaff, supervisor for air medical services.

“This is going to be the new MAMA,” he said. “The current MAMA will become our back up. We can pick up more weight safely. We can get to all of our patients.”

It is able to safely land in the same size area as the current MAMA aircraft and has a 31% larger patient care area.

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The new helicopter can accommodate two patients but typically it would take just one. It also had a 15% increase in transport range. It has a cruising speed of 145 miles per hour.

“We only have it set up for one patient,” said Grindstaff. “We can transport from Asheville to Duke University. We have extended the range that we can go out pick up a patient and come back to Mission Hospital.”

The crew for the new MAMA helicopter consists of the pilot, a nurse and a paramedic or a respiratory therapist depending on the patient.

As with other MAMA aircraft, the EC-145e is night vision goggle certified and single-pilot instrument flight rules certified. It is a twin-engine aircraft.

“Weather is always a factor but it won’t be as much of a factor because you have more fuel and it has more sophisticated instruments,” said Grindstaff.

He added the recent acquisition of Mission Health by HCA made getting this new aircraft possible. It also means more lives will be saved.

“We’ve got more room to work and you can get to the entire patient from head to toe,” said Grindstaff. “Patients that we can’t currently fly we will be able to fly in the future. We can get larger, heavier patients in here.”

Hospital President Carol Wolfenbarger and Steve Jones with the hospital board were there to see the new MAMA aircraft. Representatives from McDowell EMS were also there to check out this new aircraft, both inside and outside.

“It is a very nice helicopter,” said Capt. Donnie Tipton. “It will serve us all very well.”

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