- Associated Press - Friday, August 8, 2014

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (AP) - Two weeks ago, Dent M. Thompson, vice president of Phoenix Air, received an interesting phone call while he was on vacation in the mountains of North Carolina.

One of the leading air ambulance companies in the world, Phoenix Air had developed what it calls an Aeromedical Biological Containment System (ABCS), and the U.S. State Department wanted to know whether the unit would fly.

“I got a call from a senior doctor with the U.S. Department of State, who asked me if the ABSC was capable of handling Ebola,” Thompson recalled. “I said, ‘Are you serious?’”

Vacation over.

What followed were days of intense discussion between Phoenix Air, charities and several domestic and foreign agencies trying to figure out one thing - could the company get to Monrovia, Liberia, and safely transport two Americans to Atlanta for treatment at Emory University Hospital?

The patients, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who were doing charity work for SIM and Samaritan’s Purse, were basically trapped in Liberia, where they were stricken with the very virus they had gone over there to fight.

Ebola is ravaging West Africa and has taken the lives of hundreds of people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

“Finally, we sat down with the flight crew, the medical crew and the maintenance crew,” Thompson said. “We came up with a consensus. Let’s go for it. There was no reason not to do it.”

There even was a safety valve. Once on the ground in Monrovia, if Phoenix Air’s medical team decided the patients’ condition had deteriorated to the point that transporting them would be dangerous, the crew could scrap the mission and come home empty. It appears that was never a consideration.

“The goal was to bring two Americans home and hopefully save their lives,” said Randall Davis, Phoenix Air’s general vice president and general counsel.

On Tuesday, Writebol became the second of the two to make it safely back to America. Both are being treated at Emory.

Thursday was a good day for Thompson, as his firm - at least for now - is the most famous air ambulance company in the world. With the pilots and medical staff who made the two trips to pick up Brantly and Writebol, Thompson stood in a hot Cartersville hangar Thursday in front of the gray Gulfstream III - dubbed the “Angel Airplane” - with the much-talked-about ABCS. The containment system is disposable: each one is incinerated after a single use.

Thompson said his company worked with several federal agencies, including the state department, the CDC, the FAA, the Portuguese government, law enforcement, the Defense Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“Every agency got involved,” he said. “We had 110 percent support from the government, because everybody wanted these two American citizens brought back here. Without the full force of the American government, this trip could not have happened.”

The missions, however, were paid for by the two charities, not taxpayers.

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