ROCHESTER, Minn - It's not your typical day at the office for two southeastern Minnesota pilots. Instead of flying people to and from vacation the duo transports some of Mayo Clinic's most important cargo: it's patients and medical teams.
I was lucky enough to have the crew take me up for a quick flight and get a birds-eye view of their career high in the sky.
While it's common to think of a helicopter or ambulance when you hear about being transported to a hospital sometimes ground transport takes too long and bad weather means helicopters can't fly. Mayo Clinic has a leg up when it comes to patient care as they have a fixed-wing plane. In fact, two local women fly the plane.
"I never thought I'd be flying a King Air 350 for Mayo Clinic, but I do love it," explained Pilot Stacia Valentine-Harkins.
The women became interested in aviation at a young age.
"It was an intro flight that my dad received from Christmas and my brother and I were able to tag along and get in the back of a 172 and go fly. It was only 30 minutes, but it caught my interest in aviation and went from there," said Pilot Kelly Caspers.
"I was always interested in airplanes flying over my head and hot air balloons," said Valentine-Harkins.
After high school graduation Caspers and Valentine-Harkins got their wings and flew commercially before landing in Rochester.
"I kind of see this as my dream job. I get the best of both worlds I get to fly an airplane, be home and at the same time I get to do something good and rewarding by bringing people here to Mayo Clinic," said Caspers.
Mayo Clinic has a hanger at Rochester International Airport housing the plane and a full staff of pilots and paramedics. From the time the crew gets a call and is wings up it's about 30-minutes. From Rochester International Airport to North Dakota, Florida, even neighboring communities like Fairmont, Minnesota. The flight crew can go anywhere in the United States, and even into Canada.
From knee operations and minor surgeries to neo-nat flights every medical call varies.
As to what keeps the pilots soaring daily to new heights?
"With aviation everyday is a new day. You don't know what the weather is going to bring, you don't know what type of patient you're going to have," said Caspers.
"Knowing that I'm doing good for somebody and their family - and the flying. I love to fly," exclaimed Valentine-Harkins.
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