By Errol Castens
TUPELO – A granite monument, an honor guard and a flyover memorialized the only North Mississippi Medical Center pilot ever killed in the line of duty.
Relatives and co-workers gathered Sunday afternoon near the emergency services entrance to the hospital for the unveiling of a monument designating the medical helicopter landing area the Archer Memorial Helipad.
James Archer of Wren, a pilot employed by Air Methods Corp., who had served the hospital for more than 17 years, was the only person aboard the medical airship when it crashed Jan. 5 in Tippah County.
After some of Archer's co-workers had read Psalm 23 and sung “Amazing Grace” – two of his favorite recitations – others spoke of the close connections between those who work in Emergency Services.
“We sit in a bubble together for hours on end, and we all live in the same small house,” said flight nurse Teresa Wilbanks of the helicopter base near Green Street and Eason Boulevard. “You get to know their hopes and dreams.
“We're like family,” she said. “All of these people, James knew them on an intimate basis.”
Chief Pilot Dave Young, who introduced the Archer family, noted the late pilot's special delight in his own family.
“You've never known a prouder grandfather than James Archer,” he said.
Angie Dillashaw, NMHS director of emergency services, noted the cooperation required between pilot, flight crew and ground crew to provide the best service for ill or injured patients.
“James was definitely a team player,” she said.
Crews will pass the four-line granite monument each time they transfer a patient to or from a medical helicopter. It reads: “Archer Memorial Helipad/In memory of James Archer/1946-2005/May you now fly with God”
Flight service on duty
Archer was killed after the helicopter had been dispatched to a car wreck in Tippah County. After the craft experienced reportedly minor problems with a puncture of the chin bubble, the patient and flight crew were sent by ground ambulance to the hospital. Archer stayed with the helicopter and, after temporary repairs were made, lifted off to return to Tupelo and crashed soon thereafter.
NMMC was without its flight service for only a week before a replacement helicopter was delivered. The helicopter service provides emergency transportation within 60 miles of Tupelo and hospital transfers within 150 (including hospitals in Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham and Jackson, as well as the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville.
The NMMC flight service, which had never before had a crash, concluded 2004 as its busiest year ever, with 577 missions.