A helicopter prepares for take-off in Campbell River. Testing of the heliport took place on July 17. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Island hospitals test out their new helicopter sites

Tests included in-the-air analysis and on-the-ground exercise

A helicopter combed the skies above Campbell River Tuesday afternoon as part of a mock medical emergency.

Helijet, the air ambulance provider, undertook a half-hour of flight tests with a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter from the North Island Hospital’s new heliport as part of a process of getting the facility ready to handle real medical flights.

“This is essentially one of the last requirements for us to have fully operational heliports,” said Tom Sparrow, chief project officer for the North Island Hospitals Project (NIHP).

The Sikorsky helicopter, Sparrow said, is considered “the workhorse” for health emergency services across the province. The local test followed an earlier one in the morning from the new hospital in the Comox Valley.

“Campbell River was the second of the two activation sites,” Sparrow said. “The first was Comox Valley campus.”

These tests include hovering above the heliport, landings and take-offs as well as orbits around the site.

“They sit down with the ground crew and our hospital operations folks, with the paramedics, with everybody that’s actively involved in operating a heliport. They went through all of those motions to assure safety and integrity is met at site,” Sparrow said.

An objective of the flights is to do a site analysis and note any potentials hazards or obstacles such as wind, direction, lighting or anything that might present a challenge for medical transfers.

Following the flights, medical staff on the ground ran through mock patient transfer exercises.

“Upon landing, that actually moves into the next phase,” Sparrow said. “They then get to go through all of their various stages of orientation and training.”

The hospitals’ heliports received Transport Canada certification in June. Island Health has been working with BC Emergency Health Services, the air ambulance provider, flight crews and clinical staff to complete training and orientation processes with the aim of having heliport activations finalized by late summer.

RELATED STORY: Heliports certified at Comox Valley, Campbell River hospitals

The NIHP includes the 95-bed facility in Campbell River, as well as the 153-bed facility in the Comox Valley.

At present, the airport has been used for air ambulance transport to and from the Campbell River community.