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SIOUX CITY - Mercy Air Care has a new bird in the air. It's a brand new, technologically advanced EC135 helicopter, provided through an agreement with Med-Trans Corp., of Dallas.

Mercy Medical Center unveiled the air ambulance Friday in the Jetsun Aviation hangar at Sioux Gateway Airport to an audience of a couple hundred people, including Frank and Peg Koester.

Gary Koester got a life-saving ride in the hospital's former helicopter after suffering a severe head injury in a 30-foot fall on the family farm in Paullina, Iowa. He told the audience Friday, choking up several times, that even though he doesn't remember it, he owes his life to it.

"It's 90 minutes from Sioux City to rural America," Koester noted. "These helicopters have become a matter of life and death." The chopper took 24 minutes to reach him the day of his fall.

Dr. Tom Benzoni, director of emergency medicine at Mercy, said the new chopper is equipped with new technology that will be required in the next few years, including: 360-degree weather radar; radar allowing the pilots to see the ground at night; and night-vision goggles for the pilots.

Mari Kaptain Dahlen, Mercy chief operating officer, said the hospital promises air ambulance service to Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. "We are more poised at Mercy now to take that service to a new level," she told the audience. "We believe we do sacred work."

She said the hospital began offering air ambulance service in 1987. Since then, Mercy choppers have made 8,400 flights. She called the helicopter "a comforting sight" for an injured person or their loved ones.

Fifteen members of the 24/7, 16-member flight crew, were introduced (one had left on a call), and stood for a photo in front of the helicopter. Mercy chaplain, the Rev. Richard Sitzmann, prayed, asking God "to bless this Mercy bird" and its crew. Then he sprinkled both bird and crew with holy water as he blessed them.

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