New air ambulance drops in at Braunton

The new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter, which will be based at Eaglescott, coming into land at Braun

The new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter, which will be based at Eaglescott, coming into land at Braunton Recreation Ground. - Credit: Archant

Devon Air Ambulance on tour.

The new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter, which will be based at Eaglescott, coming into land at Braun

The new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter, which will be based at Eaglescott, coming into land at Braunton Recreation Ground. - Credit: Archant

THE newest Devon Air Ambulance helicopter dropped into Braunton this morning (Wednesday) to a rapturous welcome.

People in Braunton take the opportunity to get a good look at the new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter

People in Braunton take the opportunity to get a good look at the new Devon Air Ambulance helicopter. - Credit: Archant

The £4.5 million state-of-the-art aircraft is North Devon’s ‘own’ air ambulance and will be based at Eaglescott Airfield near Umberleigh, replacing the leased one currently on service.

Devon Air Ambulance charity founder Ann Thomas and Colin Thorne from Braunton, whose life was saved

Devon Air Ambulance charity founder Ann Thomas and Colin Thorne from Braunton, whose life was saved by the air ambulance in April this year following a car crash. - Credit: Archant

It follows the BBC Radio Devon Air Ambulance Appeal, which raised £852,000, surpassing its £600,000 target.

Devon Air Ambulance pilot Dan Smith is from Saunton and will be flying the new helicopter once it is

Devon Air Ambulance pilot Dan Smith is from Saunton and will be flying the new helicopter once it is based at Eaglescott. - Credit: Archant

More than 300 people turned out in Braunton on Thursday to greet the new Eurocopter EC135, meet the crew and have a good look at the machine.


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Designation ‘GDAAN’, the helicopter and crew are spending training time before it goes operational on September 1 to tour the county, visiting 14 locations.

It can fly from the north to the south coast of Devon in 20-25 minutes and took just 13 minutes to get from Exeter to Braunton today.

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Afterwards it went on Lynton and was then calling in at South Molton. Tomorrow (Friday) it is calling in at Tavistock at 10.30am, Okehampton at 12noon and Stanhope Park at Holsworthy at 1.30pm.

“It has been really nice to be able to show people what they raised money for,” said Nigel Hare, operations director at Devon Air Ambulance Trust.

“North Devon is very isolated from the specialist services, so in the rural areas an air ambulance is essential and the only way to get to hospital quickly.”

Another life saved

One man who knows this only too well is Colin Thorne from Braunton, whose life was saved by the air ambulance on April 26 following a road collision on the A 377 near Chulmleigh.

He suffered multiple fractures, a head injury, a smashed pelvis and was told later he would have died within two hours without emergency treatment.

After several operations and rehabilitation, Colin and his family have also raised £520 for the charity: “The air ambulance is absolutely brilliant – you think you will never need it, but that particular night coming home from work, if it was left to a land ambulance I would never have made it.

“I met the ambulance guy who was first on the scene and he said he never thought he’d see me again. I am hoping and praying I will be able to meet the air ambulance crew who were there and shake their hands.”

Ceri was the inspiration

Also at today’s Braunton visit was the founder of the charity – Ann Thomas was driven to raise money for an air ambulance after her 18-year-old son Ceri died in a road collision in 1986.

“I asked the surgeon later whether anything could have saved him and he said ‘only an air ambulance’,” she told the Gazette.

Ann and her daughter Toni set up the Ceri Thomas Appeal, joined by others to raise £500,000 and make it possible for the first Devon Air Ambulance to take off in 1992.

“Ceri was very socially conscious and wanted to help people, so he would have been immensely proud that so many lives have been saved,” she added.

“This is a massive occasion, our second helicopter.”

‘An incredible job’

Dan Smith is from Saunton and one of the pilots who will fly the helicopter when it goes into service next month. He said it was the right aircraft for the job, being large enough to do what was needed and small enough to go where it was needed.

“I am hugely proud and honoured to do this job,” he said.

“The trust is doing an incredible job and I am really chuffed to be a part of it. We are the only county that has two air ambulances, which is a testament to the commitment of the people of Devon.”

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