MEXICO CITY – The crews of the Mexican navy’s five air ambulances are on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus, which has claimed nearly 45,000 lives in the Aztec nation.
Mexico has more than 400,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and “Plan Navy” has logged 26 missions transporting coronavirus patients.
Lt. Eduardo Vargas, who has been flying the specially equipped planes for six years, says that he and his comrades are glad of the chance to help their fellow citizens.
“It’s gratifying to do these kinds of operations,” the pilot told EFE on Wednesday. “The navy is here to look out for the well-being of the Mexican population in every moment.”
The navy created the air ambulance service in 2000 to aid critically ill people stuck in difficult-to-reach areas far from any hospital.
Though Vargas, sitting in the cockpit, rarely has contact with a patient, the circumstances of the pandemic have forced him to begin taking precautions to avoid infection.
For the medical personnel aboard the planes, such as Lt. Cmdr. Lakhvir Singh Ortega, a nurse, the need to be careful is that much greater.
Assistant nurse Ariana Herrera told EFE that she and the other health-care professionals undergo exhaustive training to be able to compensate for the effects of altitude on patients and to protect themselves from falling ill.
“It’s a little more difficult, but that’s why we have the Mexico navy training as a flight nurse. We have to consider different things, such as hypoxia (a deficit of oxygen in the blood), et cetera, because they are COVID patients and it’s an illness that affects the pulmonary system. We can keep the patient stable from one place to another,” Ortega explained.
The normal complement of an air ambulance is four: pilot, co-pilot, doctor and nurse, but the plane can accommodate a crew of seven when the task requires.
“It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to participate,” Lt. Cmdr. Ortega said. “It’s a very rewarding feeling, though it can be more burdensome due to the stricter protocols and we have more responsibility because we must care for the patient, the co-pilot and the pilot and disinfect the aircraft.”
Four of the Plan Navy planes are jets with capacity for up to two patients at a time, while the fifth is a propeller-driven Beechcraft King Air that can use runways which are too short for jet-propelled planes.
The jets can make the journey from Mexico City to Tijuana, on the US border, in about 3 1/2 hours, a journey that takes more than 30 hours by road.
After 26 missions, Vargas said that for him and his crew, the goal is to offer patients the “most individualized” care possible.