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Jackson Hole, WY News

AIR AMBULANCE: Who flew and what they paid

Karen Oatey

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David Landes

David Landes

Transport details: Helicopter to Idaho Falls

Bill: Roughly $40,000

Insurance: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming

Air ambulance provider: Rocky Mountain Holdings

(owned by Air Methods)

Insurance reimbursement: Roughly $24,000

Paid: Less than $16,000 after negotiations

A competitor in the 2015 Pole Pedal Paddle race, Karen Oatey had an aneurysm while skiing at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. A helicopter flew her to Idaho Falls in the hope of saving her life.

“At that point you don’t think about expenses,” said her husband, David Landes. “You don’t think about any of that stuff. And it’s really not the role of the first responders to think about it either.”

Oatey died at age 58. A few months later Landes received a statement from his insurance company showing that he still owed $16,000 after insurance paid $24,000.

“At the time I just set it aside because I had more things to think about,” he said.

When the air ambulance company came to collect, Landes didn’t understand why he still owed $16,000.

“I called Blue Cross and I said, ‘Don’t you cover these kinds of things?’” Landes said. “They said, ‘Well, no, this is what we contract for.’ They were vague.”

After continually putting it off, Landes heard from his attorney that he could risk a lien being filed on the estate if he didn’t pay.

“I ended up talking to them, and I ended up negotiating the price down a little bit,” Landes said.

After talking to his friend Phil Leeds, also featured in this story, Landes started asking: “What’s going on here?”

“This could be a huge burden on somebody,” he said.

He’s urging community organizations to start providing memberships or some sort of safety net for employees. He sits on the board of the Teton County Search and Rescue Foundation, which has started buying air ambulance insurance for SAR volunteers.

“We’re an island here,” Landes said. “You’ve got to get off the island sometimes.”

Contact Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington at 732-7078 or

Managing Editor Rebecca Huntington has worked for newspapers across the West. She hosts a rescue podcast, The Fine Line. Her family minivan doubles as her not-so-high-tech recording studio.

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