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Life-saving Channel Island helicopter service to be launched?

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TWO members of the emergency services are hoping to introduce a dedicated helicopter for the Channel Islands capable of taking critically ill patients to the UK.

An Airbus H135 helicopter - one of two types Air Rescue Channel hope to use. Picture: Air Rescue Channel Islands (23501175)

Andrew Scott-Miller, who works for the Coastguard, and Mark Birrell, a firefighter, are hopeful that they can secure an aircraft by the summer, funded by a combination of public donations and government funding.

According to Mr Scott-Miller, helicopters were used by the islands on around 30 occasions in 2018 at an estimated cost of between £1 million and £2 million to the States of Jersey and Guernsey.

The aircraft can be used at night, often in low-visibility when the Airport is not operational and when multiple people need transporting.

Currently, if either island needs to arrange a helicopter medical transfer to a UK hospital, they must request an aircraft from England – taking around four hours to move a patient.

However, Mr Scott-Miller said that if there was a helicopter based locally, it would only take around an hour to deliver the patient.

‘Working for Jersey Coastguard for the previous two years has given me an insight into how much the islands rely on the goodwill and availability of UK Coastguard helicopters to assist critically ill islanders, especially overnight and in poor weather,’ he said. ‘There are 21 air ambulance charities providing cover across England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, all funded by the public. I believe, with the support of islanders, we can deliver this life-saving service.

‘This would be a great example of all the islands pulling together to help each other. The support and goodwill we have received from both the public and governments has been empowering. There is a real sense that everyone is aware just how much this service is needed, and they are going out of their way to make it a reality.’

The pair say that £1.5 million would need to be raised in a combination of public and government funding to get the service off the ground and that the helicopter would likely be run by one of the existing well-established UK operators.

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An Airbus H135 is one of two models being looked at for the prospective service, which will be named Air Rescue Channel Islands. It is hoped that a demonstration aircraft can be brought to the islands in February.

Alongside medical transfers, it is also thought that the helicopter could be used for search-and-rescue operations, repatriating sick islanders back to Jersey and Guernsey and also for fighting furze fires from the air.

And it is hoped that, once operational, Islanders will be able to volunteer for a number of roles including flight medics, airfield safety teams, as well as other operational positions.

According to the most-recently available data contained within a response to a freedom of information request, the Island’s existing fixed-wing air ambulance was used 343 times in 2014, 342 times in 2015 and on 268 occasions in 2016 – with most patients suffering from cardiac-related complaints.

Mr Scott-Miller and Mr Birrell are now in the process of formally setting up a registered charity and they expect the process to be completed by January.

  • More information is available by visiting air-rescue.org.
Ed Taylor

By Ed Taylor
Journalist

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