Mercy Flights—America’s first not-for-profit air ambulance service—was created in 1949 in direct response to the polio epidemic and medical transportation problems in Southern Oregon and Northern California.
At that time, two small general hospitals provided basic medical care for the community of 17,000 residents. The nearest specialty hospitals for injuries and more complex care were in Eugene (167 miles), Portland (274 miles), and San Francisco (363 miles). Since the Interstate Highway System had not yet been built, these distances were very slowly traveled on two-lane roads.
George Milligan, a young air traffic controller—and a pilot himself—mobilized the community to create Mercy Flights and recruited volunteer pilots and nurses to staff the service. The story of Mercy Flights is a grassroots account of heroism, service, creativity, tenacity, and strong community leadership.