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Air ambulance returns to the skies

WILTSHIRE Air Ambulance’s helicopter is now able to resume flying operations. Following rigorous testing of the Bell 429 helicopter on the ground and in flight, it was released back to operational flying last month.

The helicopter had been out of service since the evening of 15th June following an incident on the charity’s helipad at its airbase at Semington.

The charity stated, “While the pilot was carrying out the prescribed daily engines’ power assurance checks, the helicopter suffered an event of uncommanded tail rotor input.

“During the procedure the helicopter performed two and a half, counter clockwise, uncommanded spins and came to its final stop following the prompt and appropriate actions of the pilot. No damage occurred to the aircraft, ground equipment or airbase.

“The technical crew member (a paramedic) in attendance was at all times at or beyond the prescribed safety distance from the helicopter, following the relevant operating and safety procedures. At no point was the technical crew member at risk of being hit by the tail rotor. CCTV recordings provide factual evidence of the dynamics of the event.

“From 16th June, the helicopter has remained available for investigation whilst the charity’s management was engaging with the helicopter manufacturer and the relevant aviation authorities.

“Following in-depth testing of the helicopter as part of the investigation, the manufacturer recommended the precautionary replacement of two components that had to be sourced from North America. Furthermore, two sets of flight data were downloaded from the helicopter to guide the required investigation of the event. After further testing (on the ground and in flight) carried out in conjunction with qualified representatives of the manufacturer, a detailed, yet preliminary report was issued by the aircraft manufacturer on 19th July providing all the information that had been requested by the charity and the aircraft operator to release the helicopter to service and resume operations.

“During the time that the helicopter has been unable to fly, the charity’s paramedics and doctors have been operational providing critical care in Wiltshire and assisting neighbouring air ambulances, by using rapid response cars, including one loaned to them from the charity West Berkshire Rapid Response Cars. The cars have the same specialist medical equipment – funded by donations – that is onboard the helicopter.

“Wiltshire Air Ambulance’s paramedics and doctors have responded to 95 incidents in the cars since 15th June until 19th July – on average almost three incidents a day – and in one in five incidents they travelled in land ambulances providing the critical care to their patients en-route to hospitals.”

David Philpott, chief executive of Wiltshire Air Ambulance said, “We are pleased that our helicopter has been released for operational flying. The safety of our operation is of paramount and overriding importance to the charity.

“Associated with the wide and diverse range of its stakeholders, the charity has the clear and defined duty of care to ensure that the helicopter is released to service and operations are resumed only when all and any safety concerns are addressed and satisfied, in compliance with applicable regulation. This may require time, but it is an unavoidable component of the process.

“As is normal procedure when our helicopter is unable to fly, our paramedics and doctors have responded to emergencies in rapid response cars, providing critical care to patients. We are incredibly proud to provide a lifesaving service in Wiltshire and surrounding counties and thank everyone, including our colleagues at neighbouring air ambulances who have helped cover incidents in Wiltshire, for their support.”

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