Classic Air Medical held a celebration at the Page Municipal Airport last Thursday where they acknowledge their pilot Matt Stein’s awesome achievement of completing 3,000 flights transporting patients as a Classic Aviation pilot.
Classic Aviation CEO Tony Henderson presented Stein with a pair of wings commemorating his amazing career milestone.
The ceremony was attended by officers from the Page Police Department, Coconino County Sheriff’s Office, National Park Service law enforcement, representatives from the Page Hospital and Stein’s co-workers and colleagues.
“Three thousand flights is a huge accomplishment. That’s a huge deal,” said Henderson during the event. “When you consider how many lives he has affected and how many lives he has saved.”
Stein, a Los Angeles native, has worked for Classic Aviation, a helicopter pilot for Classic Air Medical, for 25 years, and has spent 7,000 hours sitting in the pilot’s seat. He began working for them in 1992, just four years after the company was founded.
He started as a pilot, then advanced to lead pilot. He then became the Page Manager Classic Aviation, then its Director and he now serves as their Chief Operations Officer. Through the advancements in his career he has continued flying as one of their EMS pilots.
“As the COO I wouldn’t have to fly if I didn’t want to, but that’s one of the perks of the job,” he said. He still flies about 125 flights for them a year, logging 200 to 300 flight hours.
Classic opened their Page operations in 1988.
Mark Henderson, who owned Classic Aviation at the time saw a need for medical air transportation in Page while he was houseboating on Lake Powell with family and friends and witnessed someone fall forty feet off a cliff and land on their back.
Mark and his friends went to the man’s rescue with what tools they had. They put the victim on a lawnchair and carried him to a houseboat.
“The waves were too rough and choppy to transport him on a powerboat,” said Tony Henderson. “The rough waves would have made his back injury worse.”
Instead they made him comfortable on the houseboat and transported him to Hall’s Crossing, which took about four hours.
“We had just started our helicopter business and thought we could make a difference if we started an operation out of Page,” said Henderson.
Stein recalls his early days as an EMS pilot with Classic.
“Back then we were the only helicopter for 4,000 square miles around,” he recalls.
In the very beginning Classic Air Medical stationed their helicopter, a pilot and EMS crew at Page Municipal Airport and let Park Service, the Sheriff’s Department and Page Police Department know they were available, should they need a remote rescue.
“The first year we just came here on busy, three day weekends,” recalls Richard Leightner, Regional PR Representative for Classic Aviation.
By the next year they stationed their helicopter and crew at the Page Airport for the duration of the summer.
“We didn’t even have a hangar,” said Leightner. “We kept our helicopter parked at the north end of the tarmac. We called it the North Pole because our designated spot was next to the northernmost light pole.”
Stein says his career has been very enjoyable and rewarding. He estimates that about ten percent of his 3,000 flights were critical need patients who would have died without the quick response of a helicopter EMS team reaching them in a remote location.
Joe Luster, an RN, CFRN and the Base and Clinical Manager for Classic Air Medical, he’s flown hundreds of flights with Stein over the years and has seen him in action.
“As a pilot he doesn’t just sit there and wiggle the stick,” said Luster. “He helps us with CPR, he helps us lift the patient or our equipment. What he’s done and helped us do is a much bigger achievement that just flying.”
During the ceremony Stein recounted one of his most memorable flights.
“It was wintertime. A man and his wife from Ticaboo were hiking in Ticaboo Canyon. He wanted to go farther, all the way to the lake, and she didn’t, so they split up. While they were separated she fell off a cliff and shattered the lower extremities of both legs. When the man returned and couldn’t find his wife he began searching for her. It took him a while to locate her.”
By the time the man found his wife she was hypothermic and in and out of consciousness. He built a fire next to her to help keep her warm, then went for help. He was eventually able to get out a phone call to 911.
When Stein got the call it was night, with some scattered snow showers.
“We put the [night vision] goggles on and we approached the canyon from several angles but the weather was just too severe to let us land,” he said. “We flew to Hall’s Crossing and waited there for about an hour for the weather to clear, which it did, and we tried it again, and this time we were successful.
“Meanwhile the woman had lost consciousness and had rolled into the fire that her husband had built, so now, in addition to two shattered legs she also had a large third-degree burn.
“The husband later said that when he saw our searchlight approaching he said it looked like an angel coming down from heaven. She was one of the ten percenters for sure.”
Witnessing the trauma doesn’t bother him, Stein said, but when the situations involve a family component that it blows right through him.
“There has been a lot of triumphs and tragedies over the years,” he said. “I’ve built up a pretty good karma annuity. To be a part of the team that is going to be the best part of someone’s worst day, I feel very honored and thankful.”