It's Getting So Hot That Medical Choppers Can't Fly to Rescue People Dying From Heat

Out of Air

An ongoing heat wave has gripped the US West Coast, triggering record-breaking temperatures — a terrifying, climate change-driven reality.

Death Valley National Park saw temperatures soar to dangerous levels, leading to the death of a motorcyclist over the weekend.

Adding to the peril, the air is becoming so hot that helicopters are struggling to stay airborne, which is a particularly a dangerous situation given their important role in responding to emergencies in hard-to-reach places. That's because the choppers' blades have less air to push against, affecting their ability to take off and maneuver.

As the Washington Post reports, a California helicopter operator had to decline at least two rescue calls over the weekend, including a call related to the motorcyclist in Death Valley, who succumbed to heat exposure and was declared dead at the scene (temperatures rose to a stunning 128 degrees Fahrenheit the day the motorcyclist died.)

"Due to the high temperatures, emergency medical flight helicopters were unable to respond, as they generally cannot fly safely over 120 degrees," a press release by the Death Valley National Park Service reads.

Staying Airborne

Without the aid of helicopters, the situation can get very dangerous very quickly. Death Valley Park Ranger Nichole Andler told the WaPo that some patients are driven to cooler altitudes by an ambulance first as a result.

Fortunately, calls that require the assistance of helicopters are exceedingly rare, with the park getting only one to three such calls per month.

But as temperatures continue to climb, such rescues will only become more difficult.

Joshua Tree park ranger Anna Marini recalled that a hiker suffered from heat exhaustion a couple of weeks ago, and was successfully rescued via helicopter — something that may not always be possible

"Intense heat creates a lot more stress on the helicopters," she told the WaPo. "That could affect our operations."

"It’s something that we’re going to have to be more aware of now," Stanford University Hospital’s medical helicopter response team member Douglas Evans added. "I see that things are warming up and I expect it just to get worse."

More on extreme heat: Temperature Gets So Hot That Motorcyclist Dies Mid-Ride