When Island Air pilot Malcolm Fletcher woke up last Tuesday morning, he never expected to perform a medevac mission from Powell River to Vancouver.
But, that’s exactly what he did that afternoon when a Powell River man in his 50s sliced off two fingers in his wood chipper.
Complicating matters, the 39-year-old commercial pilot cringes at the sight of blood.
“It was just a big bandaged bloody mess and a bag of ice,” recalls Fletcher. “And his other hand was bandaged, too, with blood soaking through that, too, but he used it to climb into the plane.
“I was a little queasy, and the sight of all this was pretty overwhelming,” he added. “I think most medevacs, there’s a wall between you and what’s going on in the back so you fly the plane and you don’t have to worry about that. So, that’s where, for me, this was a big step … my mission was to make the flight safe and not be overwhelmed by the gore.”
Fletcher got a call at 1:30 p.m. and was told the injured man was in Powell River General Hospital, but that he needed to transfer to the St. Joseph’s or Campbell River hospital because of the severity of the injury. But, because it was non-life threatening, and due to a lack of medevac aircraft available, the injured man was going to be put on the ferry at Powell River and have to drive over to one of the hospitals.
Fletcher asked his boss at Island Air if he could use the company’s amphibious Cessna 182 to fly over to Powell River and help the man out. His boss said ‘yes’ right away.
“He’s really, really an amazing boss — best boss I’ve had,” says Fletcher. “This was probably a $1,500 charter, and we did it for about $250.”
Fletcher notes fuel for the trip cost nearly $200 and the landing fee was over $50 so the Powell River man will only pay for the hard cost of the trip.
Fletcher left the Courtenay Airpark about 30 minutes after he received the call, and when in Powell River, he says doctors decided the man should be taken to Vancouver instead.
“They wanted stem cell work and they wanted a plastic surgeon specialist,” recalls Fletcher.
He points out the flight took plenty of planning, especially because Vancouver International is such a busy airport; Fletcher made and received 49 phone calls as he co-ordinated the trip.
The injured man’s wife boarded the four-person aircraft with him and the three made the 40-minute flight to Vancouver.
“He was actually fairly with it,” recalls Fletcher. “He was obviously heavily drugged but I think his wife and I were doing worse than he was — she was in shock.”
Though Fletcher felt queasy due to the sight of blood, he says his training kicked in.
“You end up reverting to your training, and you just, I don’t know, you do the job at hand and you do what you have to do the best you can,” he says. “And this was sort of that case because I was pretty queasy and pretty wound up adrenaline-wise.”
As of Friday morning, Fletcher says the man will keep his middle finger, though doctors are still unsure he will keep his index finger.
“They said that it’s a good thing we could get the flight to Vancouver because if they came to Comox or Campbell River they would have just chopped both of them off,” adds Fletcher, noting these two hospitals don’t have the technology that was needed.
“I was really glad to help them out; I could only imagine having to sit on that ferry, and then if they did release him and then decide that he was going to have to go to Vancouver … they would have driven to Nanaimo, waited for another ferry and gone across,” he says. “It would have been a six-hour ordeal just to get to Vancouver.”