Former crew of Wiltshire Air Ambulance pay special visit to the charity’s airbase

Former crew members of Wiltshire Air Ambulance paid a special visit to see the charity’s airbase.

The visit was arranged as part of Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s 30th anniversary this year, and many of the pilots, police officers and paramedics who attended were part of the early, pioneering aircrew.

Former Air Support Unit crew stand by Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s Bell 429 helicopter with current paramedic Craig Wilkins (far left), pilot Rob Collingwood (far right) and Kevin Reed, head of facilities and security (fourth from left). Wiltshire Air Ambulance Photo
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Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s history is unique in the air ambulance industry because when it began it shared a helicopter with Wiltshire Police.

The pilots, police officers and paramedics worked at the Air Support Unit (ASU), which operated the helicopter shared by Wiltshire Police and Wiltshire Air Ambulance from 15 March 1990 to 31 December 2014. The crew configuration was a pilot, a police observer and a paramedic.

In January 2015 Wiltshire Air Ambulance became a stand-alone air ambulance using a Bell 429 helicopter and in May 2018 the charity moved into its purpose-built airbase at Semington, near Melksham.

During the visit to the airbase earlier this year the former aircrew saw the advances that have taken place in both aviation and medical care.

Among those who visited was pilot John Ball, who worked at the ASU for seven years from 1990.

Now retired and living in Scotland he said: “It was great to be part of the ASU and to work there at the beginning. As we were the first joint police helicopter and air ambulance in this country we felt we were pioneers and other police forces and ambulance services visited us to see how we worked.

“To be able to give patients a much better chance of survival because of the speed and flexibility of the aircraft was a great advantage.”

Reflecting on the facilities at the airbase he added: “It’s amazing. What we see now is the progression of Wiltshire Air Ambulance and how technology has moved on.”

Another visitor was paramedic Alan Morris, who first worked at the ASU from 1990 to 1993. He latterly became an operations manager for the ambulance service in Wiltshire and his responsibilities included air support.

Alan, who is retired and lives in Warminster, Wiltshire, said: “There was a selection process for paramedics to work on Wiltshire Air Ambulance and from the beginning those of us who worked on it didn’t want to be seen as someone special. We wanted to be accepted by the rest of our ambulance colleagues in Wiltshire as paramedics, but we were using a different mode of transport.

“We had a great rapport with the pilots and the police observers at the ASU – everyone did their bit. We saw it as an honour to work there and we were ambassadors for Wiltshire Air Ambulance and Wiltshire Police.

“As time went on the paramedics on Wiltshire Air Ambulance developed additional skills and this improved the service to the public. The ambulance service gives a good grounding for paramedics before they work on Wiltshire Air Ambulance and long may it continue.”

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Police officer, Inspector Brian Murdoch, was involved in setting up the ASU and was in charge of it when it began operating full-time from 1990 and worked there until 1993.

Speaking during the visit he said: “It was wonderful working on the joint helicopter. Wiltshire Police’s motto was ‘first and best’ and we laid claim to that for the ASU because we were the first combined police helicopter and air ambulance in the country.”

Brian, who is retired and lives near Salisbury, Wiltshire, added: “It’s wonderful to see how Wiltshire Air Ambulance has developed. While technology has moved on, what hasn’t changed among the team is the nucleus of professionalism, enthusiasm and commitment.”

Kevin Reed, a former police officer who worked at the ASU and is now head of facilities and security at Wiltshire Air Ambulance, said: “It was a privilege to welcome former crew members to our airbase. Many of them had not seen each other since working together in the early 1990s so it was a great opportunity to catch up and reminisce on their experiences in those early and pioneering years.

“We owe everyone who worked at the ASU our gratitude, as collectively they helped paved the way for the development of Wiltshire Air Ambulance to what it is today – a stand-alone air ambulance delivering critical care to people who are seriously injured or unwell.”

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