Kyrle Probus Club
   of Ross-on-Wye


County Air Ambulance - 3rd January 2013



FROM flying helicopters at the height of the ‘Cold War’ in the 1950s and ‘60s to becoming a fundraising officer with the County Air Ambulance Trust, based at Cheltenham, Mark Wilkins had a fascinating story to tell Kyrle Probus members at their first meeting of the New Year.


He said he joined the Army Air Corps and learned to fly at Middle Wallop. He was based with the British Army on the Rhine, but when the Cold War threat receded, he was attached to the Royal Air Force, flying Wessex helicopters. He served in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s during the troubles there.


When he left the service, he flew helicopters in Africa for a while before returning to the UK, flying with the Air Ambulance inScotland. He then returned to southern England becoming involved with the County Air Ambulance on the administrative side.


Mark explained that each air ambulance helicopter has one pilot, who are mainly recruited from the forces because of the experience they can bring with them and two paramedics one of whom will be a doctor. Only one lying-down patient is ever carried in the helicopter.


The air ambulance service did not exist before 1991 and without any government funding (it still has no government funding), they had to find enough money to start up, with the first helicopter being based at RAF Cosford. The area Mark works in covers ten counties stretching from Staffordshire and Derbyshire in the north, to Gloucestershire and Avon in the south.


This region now has six helicopters which have carried out 39,000 live missions since 1991 Mark told members that 60 per cent of call-outs was related to road traffic accidents and the longest time it should take a helicopter to get to the furthest point was 19 minutes. All information the crew required, was on a computer infront of them


When the helicopter reaches the scene of an incident, it doesn’t land immediately, Mark explained. The pilot comes down to about 500ft and circles the area, assessing things like wind direction and the topography of the land. Once the paramedics have done their job, the air ambulance takes the patient to the nearest hospital that has ‘centre of excellence’ status.


To keep each helicopter flying costs £1½ million, so the County Air Ambulance Trust, a pure charity, has to raise funding for this. The Trust also runs a helicopter landing pad appeal, HELP. Amazingly, said Mark, over 50 per cent of trauma centres do not have landing pads and places where helicopters used to land have now been taken over by car parks.


The club’s last meeting of 2012 included the now traditional Christmas Message when wives and guests are invited to attend. The ‘Message’ was given by the Rev Glyn Jenkins, who related exploring his own family tree as he had done recently, to the family tree that could be traced with the birth of Jesus Christ.


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