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Medical flight team works to save lives across the borderland

Native Air 31 pilot Brett Koski maneuvers the aircraft into sunny Las Cruces skies.
Native Air 31 pilot Brett Koski maneuvers the aircraft into sunny Las Cruces skies.

Native 31 is a medical aircraft and flight crew located at the Las Cruces International Airport.

The crew is part of the Air Methods company. On a daily basis, the team flies across the borderland to aid and stabilize high-risk medical patients who may not survive ambulance transports and fly them to local hospitals, specializing in critical care where the majority of patients suffered traumatic injuries from motor vehicle accidents, rural assaults, and other traumas.

A normal day for Native 31 crew members consists of preparing and stocking up the aircraft with fuel and medical equipment, where they can be called to 3 flights a day in a 24-hour period.

An inside look of the interior of the Native Air 31 helicopter, equipment with medical equipment and a stretcher.
An inside look of the interior of the Native Air 31 helicopter, equipment with medical equipment and a stretcher.

"It's basically an emergency room just condensed to fit in the aircraft so we can handle back-to-back probably two or three flights if we're just going down into El Paso with the amount of medical equipment and stuff that they carry," says Native 31 pilot Brett Koski, who joined Air Method company in 2009.

The flight crew goes through hundreds of hours of training and ongoing education, needing 3 to 5 years of ICU experience as a nurse or paramedic before joining the Air Methods company. According to the crew, pilots must have about 2000 hours of flight time and experience before they can come into an industry such as this.

The Native Air 31 aircraft is a Eurocopter E135 equipped with twin engines.
The Native Air 31 aircraft is a Eurocopter E135 equipped with twin engines.

Crew member Arturo Guzman said the main priority on these calls is getting patients to where they will get definitive care the fastest and safest way possible, which can have its challenges.

"So, depending on the diagnosis is depending on how we treat the patient ... if it's a trauma, they bleed, they're actively bleeding out: we're giving blood, we're stabilizing an airway. If it's neurology, they have a brain bleed ... we would check in, and make sure there are no deficits there. They're not getting any worse and just giving medication to try to bring down the pressure in the brain. So, it all depends on what kind of patient we're transferring," Guzman said.

Native Air 31 flight crew stock up and prepare their aircraft at the Las Cruces International Airport.
Native Air 31 flight crew stock up and prepare their aircraft at the Las Cruces International Airport.

The Native 31 crew operates a twin-engine Eurocopter EC135, with 750 horsepower. It has a custom interior that can hold up to 4 people inside, equipped with blood, oxygen, and medical equipment. Air Methods said they are currently hiring pilots, nurses, flight medics, and mechanics.

Andrea Vázquez is a former Senior TV Producer at KRWG Public Media and a NMSU Alumna. She graduated in 2019 with a bachelor's in journalism and a minor in History. During her time as a student, she dedicated her time at KRWG’s News22 and worked as a KRWG student employee, as well at Aggie Vision.
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