LAPPE, Ont. – Theft of landing equipment has interrupted air ambulance service to an outlying community.
In the past week somebody has stolen multiple reflective cement pylons and landing lights from a helipad in the Trout Lake area, impacting the ability of helicopters to land at night.
Ralph Bullough, chair of the Lappe and area local services board, is disappointed people felt the need to steal equipment that is there for the safety of the community.
“It’s not much of a joke or prank for anybody to have pulled off,” Bullough said on Tuesday.
“I’m hoping the lights will be recovered and the people responsible will be punished. In the long run I’m hoping we can see our way to re-establishing the pad for day landings and hopefully getting it back for night landing.”
Three cement pylons that were pinned to the ground were taken from the property, along with the lights that were bolted to them.
The services board had been operating the helipad, which is located on Trout Lake Road, on behalf of Ornge Air Ambulance for the past couple of years.
They had been working with Ornge since last fall to make night landings a reality at the site and it finally became a reality in the past few weeks.
The first incident occurred nearly two weeks ago, when an all-terrain vehicle was driven into one of the pylons. The structure was damaged and the light was smashed.
Bullough said the cement pylons cost about $700 each while the lights cost close to $500 each. There were three pylons taken along with four lights either taken or destroyed. The pylons had been there without issue since the helipad was first operational. The lights were recently added.
While he did not have the numbers on how often the pad is used Bullough said it has been a valuable addition to the area’s emergency services.
The board’s responsibilities under the partnership include keeping the landing area cleared of snow in the winter and maintaining it in the summer.
The drive from the area to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre is still about 30 minutes under the best circumstances, meaning it could be upwards of an hour from the time of an emergency call to when the patient would arrive in hospital by vehicle. It can be even longer when there are less than ideal conditions.
“When you start measuring it by mileage, bad weather, accidents or whatever, this is quite a ways out,” Bullough said.
“It can be the difference between life and death.”
Bullough said the services board is working with Ornge to develop a plan for the future of the helipad.
He said the OPP was contacted and are investigating.