The EF5 tornado that struck Joplin, Mo., on May 22 packed 200-mph winds and tore a three-quarter-mile-wide, 14-mile-long path of destruction that killed 154 and leveled 8,000 structures. The storm took dead aim at Joplin’s St. John’s Regional Medical Center, rendering the building unusable and forcing a post-storm evacuation of 183 patients. Five others suffocated when back-up power failed and their ventilators shut down.
The storm also destroyed the 1987 BK117B-2 medevac helicopter assigned to St. John’s, pushing it off its ground-level helipad through a chain link fence and then sending it tumbling through the parking lot while it shed shards of rotor blades before ending up on its side, stripped of paint and window transparencies. The helicopter was operated for St. John’s by Air Methods. According to company CEO Aaron Todd, the suddenness, strength and scope of the storm precluded flying the helicopter out of harm’s way, and it was more important for the crew to seek shelter as the violent weather approached.
“We have redeployment policies for every location,” Todd said. “In this case the storm moved in so quickly and over such a wide front that you were just as likely to move it into harm’s way as you were to move it out of harm’s way.”
Todd said Air Methods restored service to the area within a few days with a back-up aircraft. “Thankfully, none of our crews were hurt, so they were available to recommence the service.”