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AUDIO: Dispatch recordings released in Estero cras...
AUDIO: Dispatch recordings released in Estero cras...: 911 calls and dispatch recordings released in Estero crash involving Medflight mixup

A Sarasota-based helicopter has become the second option in medical emergencies here, after Lee County officials last month grounded both taxpayer-funded helicopters, according to a county statement released Monday.

County officials did not disclose in documents how long it would have taken the privately-owned helicopter to travel 80 miles to a crash at Corkscrew Road and U.S. 41 early Friday, according to county documents.

But in a Lee County dispatch recording released to the media, a Bayflite dispatcher told a Lee County dispatcher that it would take approximately 25 minutes for a helicopter to arrive from Sarasota.

First responders who were working to pry a critically injured 19-year-old from the passenger seat of a truck canceled the helicopter once they learned its estimated time of arrival, according to county documents and Estero Fire Rescue officials.

Traveling at the average speed of many newer medical helicopters – about 160 mph — the flight would have taken roughly 30 minutes.

The Sarasota helicopter was called up when the privately-owned helicopter at Page Field couldn’t perform the flight, because a display wasn’t operating properly, according to county documents.

That helicopter was sent here from Hendry last month, after officials grounded both county-owned helicopters and terminated the pilots who flew them. At the time county officials claimed the move was an effort to seek a voluntary accreditation, but later confessed the program had failed to meet federal safety requirements.

Estero Fire Rescue personnel thought Lee County dispatchers would have called on the next closest option, Collier County, to send a helicopter, Estero Fire Rescue Assistant Chief Mark Wahlig said.

But Collier County officials last month allegedly advised Lee County Public Safety Director John Wilson that they would be the third resort for patients in need of an emergency medical flight here, according to the statement.

“Collier Medflight’s primary mission is Collier based trauma cases,” according to the statement sent out by Lee County officials Monday.

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Collier County officials allegedly specified the hierarchy of helicopter help after news broke that Lee County’s medical flight program was suspended.

Lee County officials did not release the statement and documents until about 5 p.m. Monday.

Collier County officials could not immediately be reached for comment Monday

Collier County officials Friday said they would have responded to the call, but they didn’t receive a request until 35 minutes after the accident was reported, Collier chief Walter Kopka said.

“We were ready to go,” Kopka said. “We didn’t have any calls prior to that.”

The flight was canceled, Lee County officials stated, because Collier County officials couldn’t give an estimate time of arrival.

“The dispatcher was still on the phone waiting for an ETA, but unable to get one,” according to Lee County documents.

Kopka said Friday that Lee County dispatchers should have known how long it would take.

“We have sent Lee County a chart of estimated ETAs to a variety of locations within Lee County, Kopka said.

The 19-year-old arrived at Lee Memorial hospital 53 minutes after the first ambulance was dispatched, according to documents.

That time includes the 16 minute ambulance ride, according to documents. The truck’s driver had a 24 minute ambulance ride, according to documents.

Lee County officials stated that county guidelines call for the helicopter to be used when the drive to the hospital is longer than 30 minutes.

The length of that ride was increased from 20 minutes about a year ago, former Medstar Pilot Arnold McAllister said.

Wahlig has said its standard to call in a helicopter when it will take 20 minutes to free a critically injured person.

The goal, Wahlig said, is to have a helicopter waiting nearby to rush the person to the trauma center.

Before Lee County officials suspended Medstar, McAllister said, one helicopter would occasionally malfunction.

When that happened, he said, the pilots and crew would hop in the county’s backup helicopter.

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