Training with ELISA


I come back from my first weekend of training with ELISA Medicoptere – a one-of-a-kind NGO specializing in emergency medical air missions worldwide. ELISA stands for Equipe Légère d’Intervention de Secours Aéroportée (Light Airborne Emergency Response Team), and Medicoptere is a contraction of medical and helicopter.   Its uniqueness lies in its distinct operational concept, which combines medical, technical and aerial expertise.


Son of a Parisian firefighter, ELISA’s founder, Captain Yvon Delsaux, grew up with the ethos of public service and community engagement. He joined the Red Cross at the age of 16, qualified as Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) a few years later, and worked for several aid organizations before starting his own NGO in 1991. Officer of the National Gendarmerie, engineer, pilot, and medical technician, Yvon realized that there were no airborne medical teams with emergency response expertise and set out to do just that – create an NGO that would integrate all those competences.


Together with his close friend and professional firefighter Bernard, Yvon launched an NGO that initially recruited only gendarmes and reserve military but later expanded its membership to civilians. ELISA’s present-day team includes nurses, doctors, EMTs, security experts, critical incident commanders, disaster managers, pilots, flight assistants, engineers, surveyors, water treatment professionals, biohazard specialists, and nuclear chemists.


All core members undergo monthly training in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region focusing on situational awareness, operations in hostile environments, topographic mapping skills, communications, medical assistance, evacuations and helicopter training. The team hikes, climbs, repels, but the best part of training are flights in ELISA’s open cockpit gyrocopter.


Views over Ardèche

A gyrocopter is a unique aircraft, which resembles a small helicopter but takes off like a plane. Unlike a helicopter, where an engine malfunction spells death, a gyrocopter is not seriously affected if the engine stops in flight.  Because its rotors are self-propelled, they continue to spin, and the aircraft descends gradually.  As long as the pilot can find a small open space to land, the passengers and the aircraft remain unharmed.  According to Captain Delsaux, a gyrocopter is the safest means of flying, and according to me – the most scenic means of traveling.


Since 1991, Elisa has led multiple rescue missions to Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Cote d’Ivoire, Morocco, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Indonesia and provided over a hundred medical assistances in France.

Unfortunately, over the years, requirements for overseas deployment have become more bureaucratic and complex, making it virtually impossible for small NGOs like ELISA to provide assistance abroad. According to Captain Delsaux, less then a decade ago, the process was straightforward: foreign embassies requested assistance, NGOs responded, and the French government approved deployment. These days, all decision-making authority has been handed over to the European Commission, which is required to draw from a large pool of aid organizations from all Member States. As a result, smaller, less known agencies, tend to get overlooked, particularly, when decisions are made quickly, which is almost always the case in emergency relief operations.


One way to avoid the tedious paperwork, or paperasse, as the French call it, is by fostering partnerships with organizations that can facilitate or carry the financial burden of emergency deployment for the medical team. ELISA is a non-profit, volunteer-based organization that derives its funding from private and institutional donors and from compensation for medical assistance it provides throughout the year. The funding is typically insufficient, however, to cover travel expenses to the affected areas. As the first 72 hours post-disaster are critical, partnerships with public and private entities that can arrange travel within the first 24 hours are crucial for ELISA and the people in need of assistance.

It is worth mentioning, that ELISA is prepared to carry out missions on behalf of other entities, municipalities and foreign governments. It does not hold allegiances to any entity or jurisdiction – its only commitment is to saving lives.

ELISA continuously recruits volunteers with nursing, medical and EMT backgrounds, as well as individuals with communications and PR experience.  So if you happen to have those skills and are considering joining a humanitarian organization, spend a few minutes on ELISA’s website and get in touch to see whether you may become the next ELISA member!

Comments (1)

  • Fly Like James Bond - Cosmopolitana

    […] flew one as part of my disaster response training in France, but there are flight schools in the US (and many more in Europe) that offer gyrocopter training […]


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