By pilot Roy Rissanen
Naadam is a traditional multiple-day annual festival celebrated in Mongolia. The festival is held in July and originates from the times of Genghis Khan. The main event is held in Ulaanbaatar, but each district capital and village holds its own local Naadam. The festival includes various cultural, music and other art performances. The main focus of Naadam is on three sports; archery, wrestling and horseback racing. The horse racing track is laid across open terrain with a length of 15-30 kilometers, depending on the age of a horse. Riders are boys between ages of 5 to 13. According to local custom, they usually ride without shoes, saddle or any protective equipment, which poses certain risk to riders.
Before noon on Saturday, we received a call for an urgent medevac flight. A 13-year old boy Baasandorj had been severely injured as a result of falling off a racing horse during the annual Mongolian festival of Naadam. Our team quickly assembled in the office to start preparations for the flight to take place the same day. The boy had a head trauma and was unconscious. A 750 kilometer road trip from the mountainous town of Tosontsengel was no option. The town has a gravel airstrip, which is regularly used by Blue Sky Aviation. Other regular flights to Tosontsengel ceased long ago.
The team was busy in making preparations, coordinating the flight with hospitals and doctors and filing paperwork, checking the weather and ensuring that we had adequate fuel for the flight. In the afternoon we took off from Ulaanbaatar with two local doctors. The aircraft had been prepared with a stretcher on board and five passenger seats to accommodate the doctors and accompanying family members. The flight took two hours and twenty minutes.
When arriving, we found out that the patient was not ready. The boy was still in the local hospital. To make it back to Ulaanbaatar the same day, we had to comply with rules for being on the ground well before sunset. The doctors hurried off to the hospital to get the patient as quickly as possible.
Just as it started looking that we might need to stay overnight at Tosontsengel, the car arrived with the boy. The doctors and family members moved the injured boy, Baasandorj, from the back seat of the vehicle to our basket stretcher. The boy was unconscious and apparently had trauma on his head and neck injuries. His body was wrapped in a blanket and his head was immobilised with a neck support. It was necessary to handle the boy very carefully and delicately to prevent further injury.
BSA radio-operator Baatarsukh secured the patient and passengers with seat belts, briefing them for the flight and getting the oxygen supply connected. Fortunately, we had a favourable wind and completed the flight just on time. The boy was in a critical condition. On arrival to Ullanbaatar, we were met by an ambulance and doctors, and Baasandorj was quickly rushed to advanced care. His life was saved.
We learned later that Blue Sky Aviation had been praised in the aftermath discussions on social media and websites. People may ask, why do we engage in activities like this? We are called to save lives. This is one of the important practical ways to convey love and care for Mongolians.