A new, potentially life-saving, technology was used for the first time in Iowa this week. The crew that operates Mercy One, a helicopter out of Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, responded to a vehicle crash near Centerville Monday night.
A teenager was critically injured and required air transport to Des Moines. Mercy One lead pilot Chuck King says they were recently given clearance by the F.A.A. to utilize new equipment to guide the helicopter through rough weather.
“The weather conditions here in Des Moines were (worse) than we would’ve been allowed to depart (in) under visual flight rules, so we had to make an instrument flight rule departure. That procedure was approved last week,” King said. Prior to the FAA clearance, the Mercy One helicopter could not have taken off in the heavy downpour.
King says the new technology is known as Wide Area Augmentation System. It’s based on vertical navigation. “Vertical navigation means that we can make instrument approaches to lower minimums,” King explained. “The old sytem, with GPS approaches, would allow us to go around 500 feet above ground. WAAS, with vertical guidance, allow us to go as low as – in the case of Mercy – 266 feet off the ground. So, that’s much improved capability.”
Before long, Mercy One will be allowed to make rough weather, low-level landings at several rural locations in central and southern Iowa. “Those should reach final approval (from the FAA) in four to six weeks,” Kings said. “We’ll make approaches to various approaches, including the Centerville hospital, at those lower altitudes.” The teenager injured in Monday night’s crash was reported in serious, but stable condition, Tuesday night.