Sun Lakes Aero Club Hears from Aero Medical Examiner

Gary Vacin

“One of the most tragic parts of being a flight physician is that you’re not going to be able to save them all—and you’ve got to be able to cope with that.” That’s how Dr. Jeffrey Gaver described his 20 years and 5,000 helicopter flights as a flight physician during a presentation to the Sun Lakes Aero Club (SLAC) gathering Dec. 16 at the Sun Lakes Country Club.

Dr. Gaver revealed the many highs and lows of his career as an elite flight physician in Wisconsin. He said he saved many lives, and also watched as lives faded away despite the efforts of him and his team.

One of the most harrowing experiences of his life was an unscheduled landing in a V-tailed Beechcraft Bonanza in the water 80 miles from Nassau in the Bahamas. “We survived the landing, but ended up spending the night in a jail cell before being flown back to Florida,” he said. He called the Bonanza a V-tailed doctor-killer because it was so accident-prone to many physicians who had too little experience flying the aircraft.

Dr. Gaver showed slides of patients he had attended to and helicopter, automobile, and motorcycle wrecks where he had been a first responder. “Some had a happy ending, and others didn’t,” he said.

He also explained the term triage, where medics must decide which patients had the greatest chance of survival and those who didn’t. He cited the example of an automobile accident where only two of six patients survived, including the woman who caused the accident and a 15-year-old child.

Dr. Gaver’s presentation was the second in a series of aviation-related topics given at monthly SLAC gatherings. Future speakers will be David Vangsnes, retired U. S. Air Force B-52 pilot, Feb. 17; and airshow and test pilot Bob Bishop, who has built and flown a version of the world’s smallest jet aircraft, the BD-5J, March 16. The public is invited to all presentations.

For additional information on SLAC, contact Cannon Hill at 509-539-7857, Gary Vacin at 480-298-7017, or visit the club’s website,