updated 4/27/2006 6:04:26 PM ET 2006-04-27T22:04:26

Fifty American Indian reservations will get air ambulances over the next five years in an attempt to provide a level of care not usually available in such areas, plan organizers said Wednesday.

The first airplanes will be on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud reservations in South Dakota by July, then Fort Berthold in North Dakota, said Tex Hall, chairman of the Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance.

The alliance is working with PassNet Inc. of Plymouth, Minn., which secured investors and plans to put fixed-wing airplanes on 50 reservations over the next five years, PassNet chief executive John Warnock said.

“We want to roll this out one station a month,” he said.

Funding for the flights will come from the federal programs under which the patients are covered: Medicare, Medicaid, Indian Health Services and the Veterans Administration, Warnock said.

Cecelia Fire Thunder, president of the Oglala Sioux, said the service will allow patients to be taken directly to a burn unit, for example, instead of local hospitals first.

The airplanes also will be used to fly in medical specialists to the reservations, said Fire Thunder, whose tribal members live on the Pine Ridge reservation in southwestern South Dakota.

The Inter-Tribal Economic Alliance is a national coalition of Indian tribes and native Alaskans and Hawaiians.

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