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Smoke-filled skies over Indianapolis remind medical-rescue pilot of flying in Kuwait

Jeff Payton has flown Black Hawk helicopters for the Indiana National Guard since 2012
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Posted at 5:22 PM, Jun 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-28 18:42:14-04

INDIANAPOLIS — IU Health LifeLine pilot Jeff Payton has seen skies with visibility this poor before, but never in America.

“It was during deployment to Kuwait," said Payton, who has flown Black Hawk helicotprers for the Indiana National Guard since 2012. "They have a lot of dust, a lot of sand that gets kicked up in the atmosphere and it's pretty reminiscent of that to where it's just a universal reduction of visibility.”

Smoke from massive Canadian wildfires blanketed the skies over Central Indiana in a gray haze. Visibility was so poor Wedneasday that it grounded Payton's helicopter, based at the Indianapolis Downtown Heliport.

Don't worry, he said, patients in need can still get lifesaving flights.

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IU Health LifeLine pilot Jeff Payton

“We actually have five bases in Indiana," Payton said. "The other four are based out of airports and are able to kind of take off and go do their thing.”

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management on Wednesday issued another Air Quality Action Day alert, noting that the smokey skies are expected to be with us until at least Thursday.

"Current air monitor readings across the state remain very high as the Canadian wildfire plume continues to move slowly through the state," IDEM said in Wednesday's alert. "Particulates are expected to be in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups range."

Dust, soot and other pollutants are at high levels in Indianapolis. The smokey air irritates the eyes, settles in the lungs and makes it hard to breathe, health officials say.

IDEM has urged Hoosiers to avoid working outside, If you must exert yourself outdoors, health officials suggest wearing a mask.

A host of outdoor activities and events were canceled Wednesday because of the poor air quality Among the closures:

  • Indy Parks shut down all outdoor pools and canceled day camps and outdoor programming at various parks.
  • The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department's East District canceled its community day.
  • Conner Prairie closed its outdoor experience.

More: Multiple closures and cancellations made due to air quality | Hoosiers warned to stay inside as Canadian wildfire smoke brings hazy skies to Central Indiana | Kevin Gregory's Thursday weather forecast

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at or on Twitter: @vicryc.