Posted by Workbook on 12/05/2014 — Filed under: Features, Headline, Photography
By John Slemp
Mike Ott, corporate pilot with Phoenix Air in Cartersville, Ga. (C)2014 John Slemp
I was recently commissioned by AOPA Turbine
magazine to photograph a pilot who flies to and from Africa, carrying patients with the Ebola virus.
After touring Phoenix Air's headquarters at the Cartersville, Georgia airport, we were driven to a separate hangar with the “Ebola plane.” The plane is a modified Gulfstream G3 and well suited for this mission since it has a very large side door for easy access. The Airborne Biomedical Containment System (ABCS) is, no joke, similar to the large, thick plastic bags that are hung in a closet to store clothes, except on a much larger scale.
The Airborne Biological Containment System or ABCS. (C)2014 John Slemp
There is an antechamber where a medical technician can enter the unit, zipping up after entry. Once inside, the outside entrance is secured, and the inner portal is unzipped for entry into the patient area.
The ABCS antechamber, looking into the patient area. The small pail is the potty. (C)2014 John Slemp
Even these simple steps are monitored by “clipboard guy,” who is actually one of the more important people involved in the process. You may have seen him on TV reports; he’s the one in shirt sleeves, at the bottom of the stairs. His sole purpose is to make sure that all patient protocols are followed to the letter…no room for procedural deviations here.
Two med techs monitor the patient in flight, sitting in seats that face to the rear, so they have direct visual contact with the patient for the entire flight. Two others are in nearby forward-facing seats, and everyone periodically swaps positions, so that all remain “fresh” during the flight. Normal vital signs are monitored throughout the flight, with the electrical leads passing through a sleeve outside the chamber to their respective units.
There is a double HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtration system in the unit: one to draw air into the chamber from the front of the aircraft, passing out through a second filter unit at the rear of the chamber and directly out of the aircraft. I’m told that seven different systems would need to fail before there would be a risk of contamination to the crew. Incidentally, the pilots fly in shirt sleeves.
At no time did I feel the slightest trepidation, as the aircraft is thoroughly decontaminated after each flight, and the ABCS bag, after decontamination, is burned. It is only used once.
All in all, just another day at the office. Have I mentioned that I love my job?