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Survival Flight Team visits Copper Country

November 30, 2009

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP - Denise Gottschalk credits the University of Michigan Survival Flight team with saving her daughter Callie's life.

"If it weren't for these wonderful, awesome angels with wings, she wouldn't be here today," she said.

Saturday, they came out to the Houghton County Memorial Airport to see a new Survival Flight plane bigger than the one that ferried the then-infant Callie to Ann Arbor in 2000.

Article Photos

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Callie Gottschalk poses by the University of Michigan Survival Flight Team’s new plane at the Houghton County Memorial Airport Saturday. As an infant, Gottschalk flew aboard the plane’s predecessor from Marquette to Ann Arbor for life-saving treatment.

The new fixed-wing aircraft, a Cessna Citation Encore CE-560, debuted on Oct. 25, delivering a new heart to a child. The flight to the Copper Country was its 21st.

Brad Uren, an instructor in emergency medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, said they had first planned to come during the Emergency Medical Services Educational Conference in Marquette in October, but still had certification issues with the plane.

"Now we have a new plane ready to go, and we wanted to be back, serving the U.P.," he said.

U-M Survival Flight, which also includes three Bell 430 helicopters, flies more than 160,000 miles each year, covering 48 states plus Mexico and Canada.

The 20 flights so far have included Orlando, Boston and Albany, N.Y., said Steve Miller of Pentastar Aviation, which provides aviation services and operational control. This was the plane's third trip to the U.P., following flights to Iron Mountain and Marquette.

The Survival Flight team started in 1983 with one helicopter, adding two more over the next 15 years. About 10 years ago, they got their first fixed-wing plane.

It was that first plane that took Callie Gottschalk from Marquette to Ann Arbor in 2000. Her doctor at Aspirus Keweenaw Hospital (then Keweenaw Memorial Medical Center) had diagnosed her with meconium aspiration syndrome, a condition in which the newborn breathes a mixture of intestinal discharge and amniotic fluid.

She spent the first 46 days of her life in the neonatal intensive-care unit, Denise Gottschalk said.

"It was a scary thing," she said. "Anytime a child is sick, it's scary."

In 2000, Gottschalk had to travel separately to Ann Arbor because there was only room for her daughter on the plane. But the new plane is large enough to accommodate family, Uren said.

The plane is 49 feet long with a wingspan of 54 feet, and has a cruising speed of 470 miles per hour. While the ventilator units were left behind for the helicopters to use, the other equipment was neatly packed up and sitting on the stretcher.

"If we get a call, we have essentially everything we need to fly a patient down to Ann Arbor or wherever they need to go," Uren said.

As her children peered into the plane, Gottschalk was thankful for what the Survival Flight team had done.

"These guys are amazing, because so many people would end up burying their children without them," she said.

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Garrett Neese can be reached at



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