On Sept. 29, 2005, an Airlift Northwest helicopter was lost in Puget Sound off Edmonds, Washington taking the lives of the pilot, Steve Smith, and two flight nurses, Erin Reed and Lois Suzuki. No patients were on board at the time. Ten years earlier, on Sept. 11, 1995, an Airlift Northwest helicopter went down off Bainbridge Island, Washington. Pilot Lee Bothwell and flight nurses Marna Fleetwood and Amy Riebe were lost in that accident. Again, no patients were on board.
"These accidents were extremely tragic, both for the families of those who were lost and for the Airlift Northwest community," said Stephen Lewis, CEO. "We had considered for some time the best way to honor these six brave people who gave their lives in service to others. A program that provides assistance with training and education for others who are committed to emergency medical services seems the perfect way to do that."
The program includes three components, including a $1,000 scholarship for nurses to be used for education that expands their knowledge and capability. A recipient of this award is Martha Leak, a nurse at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau.
Airlift Northwest began when a tragic house fire in Sitka claimed the lives of three children before they could be safely transported for care. Dr. Copass, founder and medical director for Airlift Northwest who also serves as director of emergency services at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, was teaching in Sitka at the time and was called into the local emergency room to help care for the children. He returned to Seattle, determined to find a way to provide air medical transport to areas around Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Airlift Northwest was the result of this effort and celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.