NORTHPORT and ISLESBORO, Maine — For the 5th annual Islesboro Crossing, a 5k ocean swim that benefits LifeFlight of Maine, 2017 was a record-breaking year with 256 swimmers and paddlers helping to raise more than a quarter of a million dollars. All funds raised from the swim, which was held on August 19, will support LifeFlight’s efforts to replace the organization’s two older helicopters. The two aircraft, nicknamed Echo Mike and Charlie Mike after their tail numbers, have been transporting patients in Maine since 2005.
The event, which has been steadily building an enthusiastic following, is unique in its spirit of camaraderie and community. Although it attracts many competitive swimmers who are eager to see how fast they can cross the bay, it’s not a race, but instead an opportunity to challenge oneself. Be it physical or mental, it is a test of strength and endurance to make the more than 3-mile trek across West Penobscot Bay. A quick glance through some of the participants’ fundraising pages reveals a variety of inspirational reasons for deciding to take on the challenge.
“This will be my fourth Crossing. When I signed up for the swim four years ago I was just looking for a local open water swim. I knew about LifeFlight. Their landing pad is just above my office at EMMC and I would hear their helicopters come and go and occasionally see the LifeFlight nurses in their green jumpsuits walking the halls. Then I started to hear LifeFlight stories. I heard them from people saved by LifeFlight. I heard them from a parent whose child wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for LifeFlight. I heard them from a swimmer whose wife wouldn’t be his kayak escort if it wasn’t for LifeFlight. So now I swim across the beautiful and slightly daunting waters of Penobscot Bay for LifeFlight. And I swim for those people whose lives have been changed, or will be changed, by LifeFlight.”
— Phoebe G.
“I first learned about LifeFlight when I was 11 and my friend crashed into a tree while skiing. If LifeFlight hadn’t flown her to the hospital, she could have died from her injuries. I also know a little girl who was badly burned and had to be flown to Boston. I thought it was amazing that people could be treated for injuries in a helicopter. When I found out there was a swim to raise money for LifeFlight’s new helicopters, I thought, I can do that. I’ve been swimming with the Bluefish swim team in Belfast since I was 7. I’m a little nervous to be way out in the ocean, but my dad will be paddling with me and I’ll be swimming with my friends from the swim team. If all I have to do is swim so lives can be saved, it will be worth it.”
— Lincoln G.
On Friday evening athletes and volunteers gathered at Point Lookout Resort to share dinner and attend a mandatory safety briefing. The event’s safety plan was developed by the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency, which then helped to implement it. Just after sunrise on Saturday morning, swimmers and paddlers began the 5k crossing from Point Lookout Resort’s beach and finished just north of the Grindle Point Lighthouse on Islesboro. Throughout the journey, the participants were guided by several course and safety boats, all of which were volunteering their time and resources. On Islesboro, enthusiastic spectators welcomed swimmers as they climbed out of the water, and a large contingent of island volunteers provided a variety of nourishing, homemade food.
The date for next year’s event has already been chosen. Islesboro Crossing 2018 will be held August 11 and 12, with registration slated to open in February. Take note that next year’s swim will take place on a Sunday (August 12) with the dinner and safety meeting held on Saturday evening.
An entire community of people worked to ensure the success of the event. From rescue providers and escort paddlers, to coffee makers and muffin bakers, to boat captains and kayak transporters, the many hands that came together to support the swim is the perfect illustration of the collaboration it requires every day to care for critically ill and injured patients all across rural and coastal Maine.
The event couldn’t have been held without support from the volunteer boat captains, the Marine Patrol, Coast Guard, Camden Fire, Islesboro EMS and the Maine State Ferry Service. Also providing critical transportation support free of charge were Pendleton Yacht Yard and Island Transporter.
When someone in Maine is suffering from a major medical event, or is the victim of a serious accident, LifeFlight is often called to help. The flight crew brings expertise and equipment, along with speed of the aircraft, directly to the patient, whether at the scene of an accident or at a rural healthcare facility.
Since 2005, two of Maine’s emergency medical helicopters, Echo Mike and Charlie Mike, have been beacons of hope in moments of need. The aircraft have crisscrossed the state, flying millions of miles and helping care for more than 23,000 patients. With flight time racking up and aviation technology continually evolving, LifeFlight is looking ahead to the fast-approaching day when those aircraft must be replaced. This year, we begin a campaign to raise $8 million of the $13 million total cost to purchase the next generation of fast, nimble and safe aircraft.
Like our newest helicopter purchased in May 2017, LifeFlight’s replacement helicopters will be equipped with “NextGen” avionics, which include advanced autopilot and compatibility with satellite-based air traffic control which will soon be required by the FAA. The aircraft will be faster, more powerful, have a longer range and be able to carry more weight. The interior will be designed to accommodate the next generation of care—medicine that is still on the horizon.
Major sponsors to this year’s event were Camden National Bank, Point Lookout Resort, athenahealth, The Jett Travolta Foundation, Coastal Healthcare Alliance, SevenBar Aviation, Rockport Automotive, Jo Ellen Designs, Eaton Peabody, Yachting Solutions, Sidecountry Sports, Schooner Olad, Pen Bay YMCA and Maine Magazine. LifeFlight extends its heartfelt appreciation to these businesses and to the hundreds of other businesses and individuals who supported the swimmers, paddlers and volunteers.
LifeFlight of Maine is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit air medical and critical care transport organization. LifeFlight brings lifesaving critical care staff and equipment directly to the patient by helicopter, airplane and ground ambulance. It also provides advanced emergency medical training to Maine’s hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) and public safety agencies. Overseen by 25 physicians, LifeFlight cared for nearly 2,000 critically ill and injured patients last year. Since its inception in 1998, LifeFlight has transported more than 23,000 patients from every hospital and nearly all of Maine’s communities and islands.