‘Flying ER’ adds to Centennial

Published 2:21 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Bogalusa Centennial festivities had an added touch of excitement in the form of a red, white and blue helicopter flown by Richard Smith.

That Air Evac Lifeteam aircraft landed at the Bogalusa High School practice field the morning of July 4 and made its exit just as the Independence Day parade was beginning to roll through the city streets.

An employee of Air Evac, Bogalusa native and resident Smith is a pilot with the air medical service. He and a highly trained medical crew — a registered nurse and a paramedic — respond to a variety of situations with what he described as a “flying ER.”

Smith, who works out of the base in Natchez, Miss., spoke with the company about the significance of the Centennial. He thought bringing the helicopter, a Bell 206L4 model, to Bogalusa would be good way to help celebrate the Magic City’s 100th anniversary, he said.

“They didn’t have a flyover or anything that day. I just thought it would be kind of neat to have the aircraft there,” he said.

He got the OK for the fly-in, with the agreement that he and the medical team would have to go if they got the call for any flights.

He said a flight came in as the antique cars and motorcycles were moving down the parade route, and the aircraft had to leave at that time. But he said the people who came up to Bogalusa High that morning seemed to like seeing the helicopter.

A 1968 graduate of the school, he said it was also nice to be able to land at his alma mater.

Smith’s career started in law enforcement. He went to work at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston and worked his way up through the department, eventually joining the helicopter division. There, he fulfilled a lifelong ambition by learning how to fly.

Next, after working as a trooper with the Louisiana State Police during the 1980s, he went back to flying full time, becoming part of the Air Evac team in the 2000s.

Smith said Air Evac Lifeteam and its sister companies have more than 200 bases all over the United States. Many of those are community-based facilities, such as the Natchez base, which is located on U.S. Highway 61.

He said it’s a great company that provides him with a gratifying career.

“I feel fortunate to be doing something that I enjoy,” he said. “A lot of people go to work every day and they don’t like their job — I like my job.”