GREAT FALLS - In Montana, the vast and diverse landscape is what attracts so many here.
For those seeking adventure and those who call the Treasure State home, the abundant space means limited options for critical care.
A new, life-saving tool made it possible for skilled health professionals to reach rural parts of Montana.
On Jan. 16, 1983, the first Mercy Flight flight took off from Great Falls.
Forty years later, the Mercy Flight averages 900 to 1000 flights each year.
The fleet consists of an airplane, a helicopter and a ground ambulance.
"As a crew, we stand on the people who started this. They were some of the greats in this state and region. It's the job with the best view," says Mark Long, a flight paramedic on the Mercy Flight. He has been part of the crew for over 16 years and recently completed his 2,000th flight.
The Mercy Flight allows nurses to put their skills to use on a statewide level.
Anna Pradere has over 9 years of nursing experience and is training for the Mercy Flight, "I've looked up to these guys. It means being able to do what I do best."
Not only can the Mercy Flight reach remote locations, but it also helps to boost the infrastructure of rural hospitals when needed.
"We may double or triple the type of technology they have," explained Benefis's Emergency Services Manager Scott Schandelson.
On a national level, the average flight time for an emergency helicopter is 15 minutes.
According to Schandelson, that number is nearly tripled in Montana.
The team consists of healthcare professionals, pilots, mechanics, dispatchers, administration and other support staff working together to save lives.