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Eells earns air mechanic award
Area man keeps medical choppers in the air
Chris Eells, a Lafayette County native, was honored in 2022 with the Transport Mechanic Award of Excellence. Eells works on Flight for Life helicopters in eastern Wisconsin.

MONROE — Growing up in Lafayette County and southeast Wisconsin, Chris Eells had an early premonition of what would eventually become his life’s work.

He was about six — the now 48-year-old Eells recalled — when he was taken to a public demonstration where he would encounter a University of Wisconsin medical helicopter. From then on, he says, he was hooked on making things fly, and on helping others. 

The former Darlington and South Wayne resident would grow up to become an accomplished helicopter mechanic, ensuring that the life-saving birds are ready to fly at moment’s notice when someone is in need of critical care.

For his efforts on behalf of his employer, Wisconsin’s Flight for Life Transport System, Eells was named a winner of the Transport Mechanic Award of Excellence. The award recognizes the role professionals like Eells do behind the scenes to ensure that the helicopters are able to fly when an emergency beckons.

“I just consider it my job,” said Eells. “And because of the people I have around me, the pilots and other mechanics.”

Eells was nominated for the award by his employer. But his aviation dream really had grown from childhood fascination with flight and how things worked — motorcycles, cars, helicopters. It led to the aviation school in Janesville and some of his first jobs on aircraft.

Now part of a service with two main bases, Eells splits his time between Burlington and soon, Hartford, Wis. Flight for Life is based in Waukesha. The helicopters are complex on their own — moreso still because the aircraft are fitted out with life-saving equipment like a regular ambulance and staffed by experienced flight nurses.

“Any time these helicopters are not in service, that’s someone who maybe won’t get the chance to come home,” he said.

His colleagues around the bases vouched for his skill and dedication, not the least of which, the pilots, who depend on his steady hand.

“I have been flying helicopters for 38 years, with 15 of them as an EMS pilot,” wrote Senior Lead Pilot Gene McDaniel, in a letter recommending Eells for the award. “In all of the years I have flown I have never met anyone more dedicated to taking care of the aircraft.”

McDaniel continues in his letter with an example, saying the married father of two once drove hours at night to reach a helicopter that had become stranded due to weather, a work ethic that became common knowledge around the bases.

“Chris immediately responded by driving two hours with me after having worked a full shift to make sure that the aircraft was secure until the weather cleared,” he wrote.

Leif Erickson, executive director of Flight for Life Transport System, in his nomination letter, hailed Eells’ ability to lift up an entire team when the situation arises. He was also critical in getting a pair of new ambulances ready to fly; and for the tedious day-to-day work of making sure they always have an air ambulance and a backup ready to go.

“Chris is not a yes man,” Erickson continued about his lead mechanic, adding that he is committed to safety and adding value to the flight team through leadership. 

Eells also volunteers in his free time, helping local youth learn motorcycle and automobile maintenance; or to get interested in an aviation maintenance career.

“I say ‘it is just my job,’ but I’m definitely in the right place,” he said.