A leisurely Easter weekend walk on the slopes of Schiehallion in Highland Perthshire turned into a full scale emergency, prompting the landmark 1,000th rapid response from Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA).
The country’s only charity-funded helicopter air ambulance was scrambled from its base at Perth Airport when emergency services received a call to say a hillwalker was experiencing severe chest pains.
The walk in the hills for Allan Thornhill and his wife Lesley soon became a race against time when the 57-year-old taxi driver doubled up in agony. And recovering at his home in Troon yesterday, Allan said he was in no doubt that he owed the helicopter heroes his life.
Army lawyer Gavin Law from Musselburgh was the first member of the public on the scene as the mountainside drama unfolded.
“I heard a woman shouting for help further up the slope and found her husband doubled over on the ground looking very unwell. He was having difficulty breathing and was complaining of severe pains in his chest and I realised it was pretty serious,” he recalled.
“I immediately dialled 999. They kept me talking and said help was on its way.”
Another spasm left Allan fearing for his life as the charity’s distinctive helicopter made its way to the slopes, landing in the level footprint of an old croft ruin about 300 metres downhill of the patient.
“I felt real fear and panic,” said Allan. “I knew we were miles from anywhere and I was getting worse – the pain was intense across my chest and jaw. I was drifting in and out but when I heard the helicopter and saw it land further down the hill I remember a great wave of relief and when the paramedics were at my side I started to feel new hope.”
Other hillwalkers quickly volunteered their services and six helped the two SCAA paramedics carry the stretcher down the steep rough ground back to the helicopter.
SCAA (callsign Helimed 76) then flew Allan to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee – a 20 minute flight that would have taken well over an hour and a half by road.
“The helicopter air ambulance proved vital on the day,” said Gavin Law.
“The car park was some distance away and the land ambulance crew faced quite a climb. They would also have had a long journey back over rough ground with the patient to reach the ambulance even before they started the long drive to hospital.”
SCAA aircrew paramedics John Salmond and Julia Barnes praised the help of the public.
“Their series of actions helped bring air support quickly and effectively to the scene,” said Julia, “and their kindness and support on the ground meant we were able to turn around this emergency situation really quickly.
“We are always very appreciative of how human kindness comes to the fore in situations like this and people do all they can to help us help the patient – from dialling 999 and tending the casualty, to guiding the helicopter in and helping carry the stretcher over difficult ground,” added John. “Throughout our 1,000 callouts – the public have always been there for us.”
the patient carried on their 1,000th emergency callout has vowed he will be there for the charity in the future.
“SCAA is worth its weight in gold to the people of Scotland,” said Allan at home in Troon yesterday. “I was able to see my grandchildren enjoy their Easter eggs thanks to this amazing team – it could so easily have been a totally different outcome without them.
“They are heroes. I owe them my life and I promise I will make it to the top of Schiehallion one day – sponsored by all my friends and family – to raise money for SCAA in order that they can keep helping people like me every day in Scotland.”
Scotland’s first and only charity-funded helicopter air ambulance reached its landmark 1,000th callout less than three years after launching the pioneering service.
Now firmly established as a key element of Scotland’s nationwide emergency response network, SCAA flies to mainly time-critical incidents across the country from its central base at Perth Airport.
During its service, SCAA has flown nearly 87,000 miles – more than three times round the earth – taking it to emergencies right across Scotland on an average mission length of 45 minutes.
Commenting on the milestone mission, SCAA Chief Executive David Craig described it as “a remarkable achievement” for the charity. And he wished Allan a speedy recovery and looked forward to welcoming him on a visit to the airbase.
“Since launching just less than three years ago we have helped to improve and save the lives of hundreds of people in critical need of emergency care,” he said. “We are hugely indebted to the people, businesses and communities of Scotland who have supported us since day one and continue to keep us flying.
“As we receive no government funding, we rely on the general public to help us raise the £2m every year to maintain this vital service. As we go forward into the next 1,000 callouts, I would like to thank everyone who has donated funds, our crew and charity staff, volunteers and our partners – the Scottish Ambulance Service and Bond Air Services.”
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