On the icy evening of Nov. 10, Robert Sliper was rolled on a stretcher from an ambulance to a gleaming black and yellow Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprop Life Flight plane at Black Hills Airport in Spearfish, South Dakota.
Sliper was an 84-year-old proud South Dakotan and an admirer of Gov. Kristi Noem, who had declared she had the pandemic well in hand. She had been taking very different flights of her own to campaign in other states for President Trump and boost her own political fortunes, maybe to make a presidential run herself in 2024. She had repeatedly said that she was focused not on a record spike in new COVID-19 cases, but on hospital capacity. Her top health official said on Nov. 10 that 37 percent of South Dakota’s regular hospital beds and 32 percent of its ICU beds remained available.
Sliper was one of those new COVID-19 cases, and the practical reality was for him that hospitals in his home state were in fact so short-staffed that not a single one could take him. He was instead loaded on this specially equipped plane, which took off at 5:34 p.m. for a one hour and four minute flight to Greeley-Weld County Airport in Colorado.