Responders Prepare to Face an Emergency


Wyoming Life Flight conducts wilderness survival training

CASPER, WY, DEC. 8, 2023 – In an emergency, people rely on air medical services for excellent critical care and rapid transport to a hospital. But what happens if that medical crew faces an emergency of its own? The crew at Wyoming Life Flight held a Winter Survival Wilderness Training event on Dec. 2, 2023, to prepare for the worst should their aircraft ever go down in the mountains.

During the three-and-a-half-hour-long training on Casper Mountain, fourteen crew members learned multiple techniques for starting a fire, building a shelter, and signaling for help.

“We had in-depth discussions on having a survival mindset,” said Flight Nurse Stephanie Smith. “We also learned how to use the resources found both in the aircraft and in nature to survive.”

One of the instructors was Senior Aviation Maintenance Technician Michael Conrad. While serving as a combat engineer in the Army, he was involved in a helicopter mission in Panama when the tail rotor got caught in some trees during a hover at 100 feet. The helicopter went down in a creek and was unusable for shelter. Due to the weather conditions, the twelve people aboard couldn’t be rescued right away and had to survive in the elements for three days. When they ran out of water, they relied on iodine tablets to drink from the creek, but it wasn’t enough, and several people contracted dysentery. This experience made Conrad a perfect instructor for this training. Additionally, instructors from the Bureau of Land Management Fire Services and the Casper Sheriff’s Department helped lead the event.

According to Smith, the event’s organizer, the biggest challenge was coordinating all of the instructors, teammates, and support personnel to come together at the remote location at the same time.

“It was a snowy and windy day, so getting fires lit in the wind and getting around in the snow were difficult,” said Smith. “For some, just staying warm enough during the training was a challenge.”

Despite the complexities they added, the weather conditions gave the team a realistic training experience. According to the local Sheriff, an aircraft in the county went down and the signal from the emergency locator transmitter was bouncing off of power lines, giving signals in multiple directions for miles away from the actual site of the incident. Knowing this gave the Wyoming Life Flight crew an appreciation for the training they received in signaling as a survival skill.

“I enjoyed seeing what all of trainers and participants did to make themselves successful in potential survival situations,” said Flight Nurse Michael Simoneaux. “The biggest challenge I had was realizing some of the clothing I was wearing had not prepared me for the day. This challenge ended up being a blessing because it made me aware that I need to improve the things I carry and the clothing I wear for survival situations.” 

The Wyoming Life Flight crew also enjoyed the camaraderie this type of intense training brought out in the team. They now feel better prepared for what they might face in an emergency of their own.

Wyoming Life Flight is part of Air Methods, the leading air medical provider in the United States offering critical care and transport in emergency situations, as well as interfacility transport when patients need to move between hospitals for specialized care.