MONTROSE, Colo. (CBS4) – For the first time in its 38-year history, CareFlight suited up an all-female helicopter flight crew on Monday. The Montrose-based operation’s newest pilot, Esther Babcock, came on board Dec. 1.
On Monday, rotating schedules meshed and she joined Flight Nurse Elisabeth Abel and Paramedic Becky Sproul in the cabin of their A-Star 350 B3 (made by Eurocopter).
It’s not known if they are officially the first-ever in the state or how many other all-women teams exist in the nation. But it’s a rarity nonetheless.
“This was the first time we had seen it, so we made a big deal of it,” said CareFlight Chief Flight Nurse Kathy Shoemaker.
“Women make up about 5 percent of the aviation industry, and only two percent of helicopter pilots,” said Babcock.
Babcock is a Colorado native from Pagosa Springs. She previously flew tour flights in Hawaii before making her way back home. Sproul has been with CareFlight for two years and Abel, the Montrose base manager, for three.
“It’s a very competitive field,” Sproul said. “We’re held to a really high standard. That’s what makes this an awesome place to work. It’s not a job for anyone to take lightly.”
So, in typically serious, no-nonsense fashion, they refer to themselves as “The Broad Squad.”
“When you’re flying three girls, that means your flight load is lighter!” joked Abel.
Pilots, nurses and paramedics work separate schedules. Monday was the first time all three women were scheduled together.
Air ambulance paramedics specialize in on-scene emergency care while flight nurses manage critical patient care during transport between facilities. The latter accounts for three-quarters of this unit’s work, Shoemaker said.
Lakewood-based Flight For Life told CBS4 it has had an all-female crew on its fixed-wing craft (a plane, in layman’s terms) within the last four years, but not an all-female helicopter crew.
FlightCare’s Montrose base is jointly owned by Montrose Memorial Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center in Grand Junction.