Josh Zellers has been piloting airplanes out of Dickinson for eight of the past nine years.
On Monday, however, he will officially begin what he calls a “more fulfilling position.”
Zellers is one of eight pilots Sanford AirMed has placed in Dickinson to operate its King Air B200 fixed-wing medical plane that can transport patients throughout the upper Midwest.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Zellers, who left a management job with Western Edge Aviation for the position with Sanford. “The opportunity for the pilot group, the medic group, the service for the community — it’s all really exciting.”
Sanford hosted a media tour and flight Thursday afternoon before an afternoon ribbon-cutting event at Western Edge Aviation’s hangar. The plane offi – cially begins operations at 7 a.m. Monday.
Two pilots operate the plane, which can hold two patients and up to five medical personnel.
Adam Parker, the lead flight paramedic based in Bismarck who will coordinate the Dickinson plane’s staffing, said the plane provides a comfortable atmosphere to patients and medical staff while flying at more than 300 mph.
“We really have a lot of room to move around,” Parker said. “We can get to the patient easily and really provide the care that they need pretty comfortably.”
Zellers called the aircraft “a stable system” that handles turbulence well.
Mike Christianson, the executive director of Sanford AirMed, said locating the plane in Dickinson less than a year after the opening of the city’s Sanford Health Dickinson Clinic was a “forward positioning” strategic decision that will help the health care provider better serve western North Dakota, northwest South Dakota and eastern Montana.
Christianson said he hopes the plane can serve not only the Dickinson community, but can work with hospitals, as well as ground and air ambulance services, throughout the region. Valley Med Flight’s helicopter stationed at CHI St. Joseph’s Health in Dickinson and Sanford’s medical helicopter in Bismarck are the two closest providers capable of reaching patients through the air.
“The airplane gives us a lot of opportunity to go further, faster, and it’s also all-weather,” Christianson said. “Sometimes we’re limited by weather with a helicopter, but the fi xed wing has more capabilities. They’re a great compliment to each other. We just feel like this is the right spot to put it.”
Christianson said Sanford AirMed will operate well within budget if it performs 20 transports a month.
“I anticipate we’ll be doing more than that,” he said.
Dr. Marc Ricks, a pediatric physician with Sanford Health, was able to check out the plane for himself Thursday on the tarmac. Ricks said he has used Sanford’s planes before and called it a “lifesaving intervention for patients who need it.”
“Often, the new babies are the ones at the highest risk who need emergent transport from here to somewhere else,” Ricks said. “Fortunately, most of the time that goes really smoothly. But obviously it’s nice to have that additional capacity and quickly go to specialists in other parts of the state and other parts of the country if we need to.”