Military Aviation

That time a RNoAF F-16 rushed specialised medical equipment halfway across Norway in 25 minutes and saved a critically ill patient’s life

On Apr. 22, 2016 a quick-thinking medical staff in Norway saved a patient’s life by calling in a Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 Viper fighter jet to whisk live-saving medical equipment from another hospital.

On Apr. 22, 2016 a quick-thinking medical staff in Norway saved a patient’s life by calling in a Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16 Viper fighter jet to whisk live-saving medical equipment from another hospital.

On that day in fact a RNoAF F-16 fighter jet rushed specialised medical equipment halfway across Norway in less than half an hour and saved a critically ill patient’s life.

The sick man was taken to a hospital in Bodø but it did not have an ECMO machine, which supports the heart and lungs, without which he would die.

Since the closest one available was at a hospital in Trondheim (280 miles to the south) and since a 10-hour journey by car was required, the doctors feared the man would die before it could arrive.

However, as The Independent then reported, after a moment of inspiration, they decided to contact Værnes Air Station, a RNoAF air force base near Trondheim, to ask if there was any hope of getting the equipment to Bodø in time to save the patient, whose precise condition was unclear.

“Chance would have it that we had two flights bound for [nearby] Moss on an exercise,” Lieutenant Colonel Børge ‘Gaff’ Kleppe, leader of 338 “Tiger” Squadron, told local media outlet VG News. “One of them had even a cargo tank where there might be room. I called and asked them to keep [back] one plane, while we checked on it [for] all the possible places which could accommodate the machine.”

While the armed forces have helped with civilian medical emergencies in the past, it is believed to have been the first time an F-16 jet has been used.

“Usually we spend about 35 minutes in flight,” said Lt Col Kleppe. “But because of the special cargo, the pilot gave a little extra, so he was there in less than 25 minutes.”

The medical equipment had been delivered to the hospital in Bodø within 40 minutes of the call being received.

The air force’s swift action was praised by the doctors.

“We are very grateful for the help we received from the armed forces. It was clearly vital for the patient to get the machine,” said Kristian Barnes, clinic director at the at heart and lung clinic at the University Hospital of Tromsø, where the patient was later transferred.

“Defence [the military] often helps in many situations when civil society needs it, but such a direct parallel to something like this, is something I have never experienced before. It’s also very rare that we have to borrow equipment on such short notice from another hospital, it is extraordinary.”

RNoAF is currently replacing its aging F-16AM Fighting Falcon fighter-fleet with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II. The first Norwegian F-35 pilots began training at Luke AFB in September 2015. The first Norwegian F-35s arrived in-country for permanent basing at Ørland Air Base in November 2017.

Photo credit: Master Sgt. Lee Osberry and TSgt. Michael Haggerty, U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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