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Flying high with LifeFlight

By By Adam Prestridge
Last Wednesday wasn't a typical day for LifeFlight pilot Ken Maraman.
Most days are spent maneuvering his helicopter between power lines as he prepares to land in an open field or touching down on Alabama and Florida roadways in an effort to save lives. Most scenes he arrives at are horrific accidents involving trauma patients that need medical attention quickly.
On this particular day, producers with a new, real life drama television show are on site at Atmore Community Hospital filming footage for their show and commercials for both Baptist Hospital and Baptist LifeFlight. The show, "Alabama 9-1-1 TV", which aired last weekend, salutes the men and women that serve Alabama in law enforcement and emergency services such as fire and rescue, paramedics and LifeFlight crews.
After shooting some footage of a flight medic working with some equipment, the show's producer, Michael Smith, requested that another LifeFlight pilot, Kerry J. Sullivan, take him up so he can shoot some aerial footage of Maraman's LifeFlight helicopter in action.
This was my chance, my chance to ride in yet another aircraft as I continue my mission to ride in anything that can fly.
Until last week, the highlight for me above land and sea was hovering over Birmingham and the surrounding areas in a blimp. It was amazing seeing the blimp's pilot use what looked like a wheelchair to operate the craft and later softly touch down at the Birmingham International Airport. It was an adrenaline packed ride to say the least.
I had also been on commercial airlines and smaller planes, but never a helicopter. It was a delight to see Atmore Fire &Rescue Department Chief Gerry McGhee hop into a seat on Maraman's aircraft and place a headset on. It was my opportunity.
But before I could hitch a ride, McGhee asked if I was going up. I shrugged my shoulders in hopes that LifeFlight outreach coordinator, Lee Rumbley, who arranged the taping, would see. Fortunately he did.
"Do you want to go up," he asked.
Without hesitation I said "Heck yea!" and hopped into the seat next to McGhee like a kid in a candy store.
Unlike McGhee, I had to put on a headset helmet. I guess they thought if I decided to jump, I may land on my head, so they were taking as many precautions as they could. They also decided to poke fun by giving me a barf bag in case my breakfast decided to come back up. What they did not realize is that not only do I not eat breakfast, but also I don't get airsick.
Once in the air, Maraman maneuvered the helicopter with ease. If it weren't for being 1,000 feet in the air, I would have never known I was in a helicopter. Oh yea, the sharp turns in the air quickly reminded me that I was hovering over the earth.
Smith shot footage of Maraman from Sullivan's helicopter for more than 15 minutes and before we knew it, the mouth of the Mobile River was below us. When Smith was done, Maraman turned the helicopter around and we headed back to Atmore.
When we made it over Perdido, Maraman must have hit the gas because we were back home within a matter of minutes. The scenery below blurred as businesses, homes, pine trees and swimming pools quickly passed by.
Once on the ground, I learned that Maraman was a pilot in the Marines. After retiring in 1988, he joined the staff at CJ Systems Aviation Group, which flies the Baptist LifeFlight's helicopters.
I also learned that while Smith was shooting we were cruising between 130-140 knots. Normal cruising speed is 120 knots or two miles per minute. From Perdido to Atmore, we were traveling 150 knots, which is the same as 172 mph.
Thanks to Baptist LifeFlight for allowing me to be a part of such an enjoyable Wednesday morning.
Adam Prestridge is publisher of the Atmore Advance. He can be reached at 368-2123.