LifeFlight of Maine Marks 25 Years of Service

The air ambulance nonprofit has safely cared for and transported Mainers for a quarter-century.

LifeFlight of Maine pilots geared up and walking towards their helicopters

In April 1998, medical leaders, together with then Governor Angus King, delivered a promise to the people of Maine: to create the safest world-class air medical system possible. “At that time, we were the only state in the country without access to a dedicated air medical system,” says Tom Judge, founding executive director of LifeFlight of Maine. “Leaders in the EMS system knew that every day, people ran out of time.” Now in its 25th year, LifeFlight has served 37,000 patients from every community and hospital in the state, thanks to its commitment that every person receive access to critical care and medical transport when needed. “From a philosophical standpoint, we believe that geography shouldn’t be health-care destiny,” Judge says.

a photo from LifeFlight of Maine's early days

Once the promise was made public, LifeFlight got to work designing a system for Maine from scratch. The first helicopter arrived in August 1998, and LifeFlight flew its first patient in September. From the start, all LifeFlight helicopters carried blood, not common practice at the time but important given Maine’s widespread population. “We were focused on making sure that when the helicopter arrived, it was bringing an ICU,” Judge says.

Ensuring that service also required extensive work to improve the state’s aviation system. In 1998, there were only two hospital helipads in Maine, and nothing regarding emergency services in the aviation master plan. Judge and others brought a list of needs to Augusta. “We asked the legislature, and consequently the people of Maine through voting on a bond, to invest in a public good,” Judge says. Now, LifeFlight and its hospital and community partners have built 32 hospital helipads, 10 community helipads, 140 remote landing zones, 18 weather-observation systems, and 39 advanced instrument flight navigation approach and departure procedures. LifeFlight has also worked with communities to extend runways at local airfields and assisted in the development of remote-fueling capabilities for rural hospitals. The organization is especially proud to have done so while operating as a nonprofit.

The LifeFlight Foundation, established in 2003 as the formal fundraising and public-relations arm of LifeFlight, is now celebrating over $41 million raised. “We have a completely symbiotic relationship,” says foundation executive director Kate O’Halloran. “We work closely to determine and prioritize the capital needs of LifeFlight of Maine.” With each helicopter costing more than $6 million, O’Halloran appreciates every donation. Just as LifeFlight made a promise to Maine, each contribution represents an acknowledgement from its residents that they appreciate the important and unique role that LifeFlight plays as a connector in the state’s increasingly fragile and fragmented health-care system. “When people look up and see a green-and-gold helicopter, that’s their helicopter,” she says.

a LifeFlight of Maine pilot at the controls in the helicopter
LifeFlight responds to a call for help on average every 3.5 hours, every day and night of the year.

Many gifts arrive with a hand-written note sharing a personal connection to LifeFlight. The gratitude or loss in the stories is often intensely raw and each gift serves as a tangible sign that LifeFlight has become a part of what makes Maine so special. The key, Judge believes, is that every physician, hospital, and EMS agency, as well as every person in Maine who may have an unanticipated medical event, is a stakeholder. Whether here for a weekend, a summer, or a lifetime, everyone benefits from this safety net. “No one gets up in the morning saying, ‘This is going to be my day,’ but it happens,” Judge says. “We made a promise to be there for the people of Maine, and we keep that promise every single day and night.”

Learn more about LifeFlight of Maine at