Ransomed for charity

Prominent Denver businesspeople to gather funds for Flight For Life

Courtesy of Flight For Life

Flight For Life helicopters and airplanes usually fly people out of the mountains.

But on Sept. 12, in a fundraising event called the Rocky Mountain Ransom, Flight For Life will helicopter eight Front Range denizens to a remote mountain location, dropping them with nothing but a cell phone. Each ransomee can only come back after raising $100,000 for the organization.

“I’ve never been on a helicopter, believe it or not, so I’m a little anxious, but the cause is too big of a cause to turn down,” says Chuck Morris, CEO and president of AEG Live Rocky Mountain.

“AEG Live, my company, [is] actually donating a bunch of money to keep me on the mountain,” he quips.

Morris has very personal reasons for getting involved.

“My wife, Becky, was a student at Denver University in 1979 and was in a head-on collision in 1979, and it saved her life,” he says, saying that when the call came asking for him to participate, “the Morris family got very involved, for obvious reasons.”

After word got out about the fundraiser, people stepped up enthusiastically to help, says Flight For Life Program Director Kathy Mayer.

“It was astounding. Truly they are local heroes,” she says of the ransomees. “We put the request out there through our foundation, and they just stepped up.”

In addition to Morris, the other participants include KBCO morning host Bret Saunders; Denver restaurateur Frank Schultz; attorney Steve Farber; Springer and Steinberg Founding Partner Harvey Steinberg; Sage Hospitality President and CEO Walter Isenberg; Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Tami Door; Kevin Duncan of Duncan Oil, Inc.; and St. Anthony Breast Center Medical Director Raymond Mencini.

A series of events in the ’70s contributed to the founding of Flight For Life.

In 1970, a plane carrying the Wichita State University football team crashed into a mountain near the Eisenhower Tunnel. Twenty-nine people died on the scene and two died later from injuries.

This event underscored the need for better medical transportation in case of mountain emergencies, and in 1972, St. Anthony Hospital contracted for the services of a helicopter and started Flight For Life, the first civilian-based air-medical transport service in the country. As soldiers returned from Vietnam throughout the ’70s, they recognized the value of air transport emergency services, and the organization grew.

The original Flight For Life crew, 1972 | Photo courtesy of Flight For Life

Forty years later, Flight For Life has transported more than 110,000 patients and has grown from one helicopter and one nurse to five helicopters, three airplanes, three ambulances and more than 30 pilots and nurses.

Flight For Life is also teaming up with KBCO, which is celebrating its 35th year as a radio station, to launch a fundraising concert Oct. 6 at the 1stBank Center. Sheryl Crow, Amos Lee and the Dunwells will be performing. A portion of ticket sales will go to Proceeds from the fundraiser will go towards buying a high-horsepower helicopter for the organization’s Frisco base.

“Those funds raised will be used to offset the cost of a replacement helicopter for our Summit [County] base,” Mayer says. “And it’s very similar to the ones we already have, but it has about 20 percent more horsepower. So for those high-altitude flights, especially in the warmer weather, we’ll have just a little more of a performance margin there when we’re doing mountain rescues there at 13,000, 14,000 feet.”

The fact that the list of ransomees includes prominent attorneys, business leaders, developers, and a radio DJ, is something of which Saunders is painfully, self-deprecatingly aware.

“Somebody introduced the idea that along with all these prominent Denver business people, they’ll have a loser like me also get a shot,” Saunders says. “But unlike a lot of these Richie Riches, these businesspeople, I can’t just make two phone calls and say, ‘Hey Lars, give me $75,000.’”

So he is taking his call to action to the airwaves, entreating listeners to give a few dollars to the cause. As of press time, he had around $1,500. Oil executive Duncan has raised more than $90,000.

“My fear is that all these prominent Denver business people, lawyers, etc., are going to be taken off the mountain immediately, and after two weeks they’re just going to find my skeleton up there,” Saunders says.

But he’s proud to put in his hat with the business elite, especially for a good cause.

“It’s just been a spectacular 40 years, and I wish them at least 40 more years. … It’s good to know when you see that helicopter flying above your head that maybe you’re part of that, you chipped in 10 bucks or 20 bucks, that maybe I’m part of that great Colorado tradition.”

Visit bit.ly/RockyMtRansom to donate to any of the ransomees.

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