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THE first landing of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance helicopter at the new airbase in Semington Road last week, marked the beginning of a new era for the vital lifesaving service.
The milestone event was followed by the official handover of the airbase to Wiltshire Air Ambulance, which will now be fitted out in preparation for the charity’s fundraising, administrative and operational teams, who will move into their new home in the summer.
“It was a really exciting moment, we’ve been waiting a long time, so to finally come in and be the first to land on the base is a privilege,’ said pilot Nicky Smith. “With a helicopter, it’s important to have lots of open space to approach for landing, and here we can approach the base safely, from all directions. This building is absolutely perfect, it’s designed for the job, and it’s purpose-built. We couldn’t ask for better.”
Alongside Nicky onboard the helicopter was critical care paramedic, Steve Riddle. “It’s very nice; it’s a new era,” he said. “My first impressions are that the building is very impressive, it’s a massive improvement on the facilities that we currently have. It will make such a difference to have the charity team and the operational crew all in one building. I’m very grateful to the people of Wiltshire for all their support for the charity.”
Accepting the key for the building from Rigg Construction was trustee and chair of the aviation committee, Chris Lear. “It’s an emotional moment for the people who have been involved,” he said. “This project started two years ago and we were very lucky to find this site. We have a good team of people who planned this and we have been very lucky to raise the funds to pay for it.
“Our new neighbours here in Semington have been very accommodating. We’ve had lots of meetings with the local people and the parish council, and they are happy to have us here.
“They now have a first-class medical facility on their doorstep. You couldn’t ask for a better facility for local healthcare, particularly in a rural area, where getting to hospital is a challenge.
“We can’t express the gratitude that we have for all our fundraisers, we would not be here without the people who are funding us. As it says on the side of the helicopter, ‘funded by you, flying for you’ and that’s the way it’s always been.”
Currently the charity leases offices in Calne for its fundraising and administrative team and leases a hangar at Wiltshire Police headquarters in Devizes for its helicopter and aircrew.
The new airbase has a flight and operations centre for its aircrew, a hangar for the helicopter and medical equipment, offices for the charity team, training suite and a visitors’ viewpoint.
Kevin Reed, head of facilities and security at Wiltshire Air Ambulance, has led the new airbase project on behalf of the charity and said the site at Semington was chosen after an exhaustive search.
He said, “When we became a stand-alone air ambulance three years ago our aspiration was to find a location to build the best possible airbase to bring together our charity and operational teams and to have full control over our future.
“The site at Semington is ideal because it is centrally located and will allow our helicopter to reach all parts of Wiltshire within 11 minutes, as it currently does now from its base in Devizes. In addition, as there is no ambulance station in Melksham, our paramedics with their critical care skills will provide enhanced medical cover for the area for emergencies such as road traffic collisions, cardiac arrests and strokes.”
The fly in and handover of the new airbase took place a few days after Wiltshire Air Ambulance marked its 28th anniversary. During that time, its highly trained aircrew have undertaken thousands of missions and saved countless lives.