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Duke of York visits Yorkshire Air Ambulance

Today it will cost £7,200 to keep the Yorkshire Air Ambulance up and running. And tomorrow, and the day after. This vital service has saved many lives since it began. On a typical day it will fly on three emergency missions.  On Monday the Duke of York visited its new North Yorkshire base at RAF Topcliffe to see the work going on and inspect the new control room. The base lies deep within Alanbrooke Barracks, and once I had got past the serviceman with the rifle and been issued with my pass, I set off to follow the instructions and look out for the signs. When I had gone around for a bit and encountered the Radio York reporter driving the other way, we formed a convoy, and were joined by another reporter. Soon we saw a bright yellow helicopter in the distance and knew we were finally on the right road. In a marquee erected by the side of the landing pad we joined a range of military and civil dignitaries.Speaking before the Duke arrived, and with helicopter  G-CEMS sitting on its pad waiting for inspection, the Chairman of YAA, Peter Sunderland, thanked the army and RAF and their local commanders for their support in moving YAA to this new base after a brief period at Bagby had shown how important it was to have a helicopter located where it could serve this part of Yorkshire. He also praised the Yorkshire Ambulance Service whose paramedics fly on the helicopters. YAA provides the aircraft, the pilots and the admin. The Ambulance Service provides the medics. Mr Sunderland thanked the sponsors and the many fund-raisers and donors who keep the service running. It also helps with fund-raising if you have a BBC series dedicated to the work you do. Helicopter Heroes is a very popular programme, and every YAA flight carries video equipment. The cameraman is trained to assist the rest of the crew. On occasion he is left behind at the scene because there is no space for him in the helicopter when it carries a casualty and perhaps a member of their family. Everyone whose story appears on the programme gives their consent. The next series will be broadcast in the autumn, and there will probably be another after that. There are 18 air ambulance charities across the country, and every time the programme goes out, each one of them receives a boost in donations. The programme even airs abroad, including Australia, Canada and New Zealand, all places with their own wide open spaces and the same problems in getting medical help where it is needed urgently. Since the move in March the air ambulance has gone out on 178 missions and taken 102 trauma patients to hospital. From the Topcliffe base the crew can reach any spot in their catchment area quickly, and can then fly to any hospital in 10 minutes and any specialist trauma centre in a maximum of 15 minutes. With the knowledge that minutes and seconds can make a massive difference to survival and quality of life chances, this is literally a vital service. We were told that the Duke would be arriving by plane. He was scheduled to be here at 1pm, and was actually running early. And so it was that at 12.52pm the HS125 executive jet touched down and taxied to the marquee. And just at that moment the red running lights came on on the helicopter, and we could see the crew of three in their bright red flying suits walking out on the tarmac. Was this a stunt, a demonstration? No. It was a real call. The ambulance is on standby every day of the year during daylight hours, even if the Queen’s son is about to drop in. Near Hunmanby  a heart attack victim needed urgent transfer to hospital. After carrying out the pre-flight checks, the crew were up and heading at 160mph on their 179th mission. The Duke inspected the new control room and then joined the guests in the marquee. He was undeterred by the absence of a helicopter. He knows a lot about them anyway. He trained on Gazelle, Lynx and Sea Kings. He did his first flying training at RAF Leeming, some 30 years ago. He served  as a helicopter co-pilot in the Falklands conflict, based on HMS Invincible, flying missions that included casualty evacuation, transport and search and air rescue. “It’s nice to be back in Topcliffe,” said the Duke, recalling his training.  Commenting on the missing helicopter, he said “I am extremely pleased the aircraft is not here, because it is out doing its job!” To the crews he said “I wish you guys every success.” The YAA chairman Peter Sunderland was delighted to announce that the Duke, already the honorary Chief Pilot, has agreed to become the Patron of YAA. The Duke unveiled a plaque tastefully concealed beneath a Yorkshire flag. After the Duke had left, by car for York and another engagement, I visited the control room. YAA has evolved the best way of choosing which 999 calls need the air ambulance. Their Wakefield control room operator can see on a computer screen every emergency call that comes in, identify which ones need the air ambulance, despatch the crew, and  inform the 999 controller. The same system will be installed at Topcliffe later this year. A huge Ordnance Survey map shows the whole area, and a red “incident” flag tells where the helicopter has been deployed. By 2.50pm G-CEMS returned, having performed its task and then refueled. It takes 600 litres of fuel, enough to run its two jet engines for two hours. What you notice when the craft is on the ground is that it has no rotor blade on the end of the tail. Instead ducts push out air to stabilise it. The cabin contains a lot of specialist equipment, but nevertheless the Civil Aviation Authority rules require that it carries…a first aid kit! YAA owns the craft, which is cheaper than leasing it, and they were able to do that because of the jump in donations triggered by the case of Richard Hammond, the Top Gear presenter who was taken from Elvington airbase to Leeds General Infirmary in September 2006 after his dramatic crash while driving a jet-powered car at over 280 mph. Over 4,400 patients have been carried from the scenes of accidents to hospital. Not every call involves moving the patient. Sometimes it is sufficient that the air crew get there quickly and stabilise the patient so that he or she can then be transferred by an ordinary ambulance. Even so, it is the speed of the response that counts. And that is what their fund-raising team work hard to achieve and keep this life-saving service running, and expanding. 


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