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REACH upgrading helicopters, expanding under new ownership

  • From left, Kerry Stripe, maintenance hangar manager; pilot trainee Dutch Johnson, who will fly for REACH in San Antonio; and Dale Pike, REACH's chief pilot, finish up training Thursday at the REACH hangar at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa.

REACH Air Medical Services is acquiring new helicopters and opening a new base in Southern California, seven months after its purchase by the world’s largest air medical transport company.

The Santa Rosa-based REACH, which pioneered air ambulance service in Sonoma County, is slated this fall to begin operating a new, $6 million Eurocopter EC135 out of its base at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport. The roomier, quieter craft will replace the Italian-made red Agustas copters that have flown for years over the North Coast.

The company this year is purchasing three EC135s for its Northern California operations, including one already in use at REACH’s Concord base. Officials said the new helicopters are an example of the difference made by Air Medical Group Holdings, the Bain Capital subsidiary that purchased REACH in December.

The copter purchases were “something we could not have done” without the new ownership, said Vicky Spediacci, REACH’s director of operations.

Air Medical last year borrowed $245 million to purchase REACH and upgrade its equipment, officials have said. The larger company, whose subsidiaries operate in 28 states, was purchased in 2010 by Boston investment firm Bain Capital for a reported $1 billion.

REACH has transported 80,000 patients since it started 26 years ago.

The company was founded by Dr. John McDonald, considered the father of emergency medicine in Sonoma County. McDonald, a former hospital emergency room director who died in a private plane crash in 2000, is credited with infusing REACH with a patient-focused approach and an eye toward growth.

The Santa Rosa company was 6 years old before it opened a second base, since closed in Vacaville. But today, REACH and related company Cal-Ore Life Flight together have 27 helicopters and airplanes operating out of 17 bases in California, Oregon and Texas.

In addition to Santa Rosa, other Northern California REACH helicopter bases today include Lakeport, Concord, Stockton and Marysville.

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