Guardian Flights Taking on Wyoming's Backcountry

Northwest Wyoming holds the most remote area in the lower 48 states: the Thorofare.

At this time of year, hunters are in northwest Wyoming’s backcountry.

After a hunter and guide were mauled by a grizzly recently, a medical helicopter landed in the dark to give them emergency care, and transport them to a hospital in Montana. The helicopter crews face dangerous conditions to save lives.

Medical helicopters are called when people get in trouble in Wyoming’s backcountry, and in Yellowstone.

Air medical transports also take patients from hospital to hospital. But, the people who work for Guardian Flight out of Cody face challenges only the most remote mountainous area in the lower 48 can provide.

Wapiti outfitter Carl Sauerwein says when his guide and client were mauled by a grizzly, they were hurt badly.

He explained, “The woman had lacerations on her leg that were very close to the femoral artery. Jonathan, when he jumped on the bear, it bit his arm. Broken arm, broken leg, puncture wounds in his neck, head, back, abdomen area.”

Sauerwein called for the medical transport on his satellite phone. He says the helicopter landed in the dark.

He pointed out, “In the past, we were not able to get a helicopter in there at night, you know. And so these helicopter services have a night capability. It’s huge for us.”

“We fly under night vision goggles, just like the military.”

Gaurdian flight paramedic and base manager Annie Kenefick said her crew face Wyoming’s winds and bitter cold.

She added, “Also the mountainous terrain has its own weather system, so we check things very, very carefully when we go up into the high country.”

Kenefick said her crew trains constantly.

Captain Isaac Etherington said he studies, “Literature, books, FAA, a lot of stuff. Pilots that find themselves here are avid students of mountain flying. And, through experience, become experts over time.”

But Etherington said there are just some things that can’t be avoided in an area that also has migration flyways.

He recalled, “Out of nowhere, doing about 160, that’s about 180 miles an hour, we went through flock of ducks. I think we probably hit eight birds.

Three to four of them went inside the cockpit with us. Went through the glass. Puncture the nose of the aircraft.”

Etherington said they were able to get the patient to an ambulance nearby.

He added, “But we had to go through some serious emergency procedures and get the aircraft down immediately.”

Air medical transports are not cheap.

But, Sauerwine said they can be the difference between life and death.

He pointed out, “It saves time.”

Guardian Flight is a for-profit company serving most of Wyoming. If you think you might need medical flight service in the future, you should check to see if your insurance covers that service.