'There in people's darkest hour' - inside story of life-saving air ambulance after 30,000 flights

East Anglian Air Ambulance hit 30,000 helicopter missions this year

The charity reached a milestone number of helicopter missions when they hit 30,000 this year - Credit: East Anglian Air Ambulance

It has been a saviour in critical emergencies when the victims of falls, car crashes and accidents have needed it most.

But as the East Anglian Air Ambulance marks saving thousands of lives after reaching the milestone of 30,000 call-outs in 20 years, it now aims to realise its ambition to fly 24/7.

East Anglian Air Ambulance teams transferring critical Covid-19 patients between hospitals

East Anglian Air Ambulance teams have been transferring critical Covid-19 patients between hospitals during the pandemic - Credit: East Anglian Air Ambulance

This will enable the team to come to the aid of many more people in the next two decades.

The charity was established in 2000 to cover the region with helicopter and rapid response vehicles (RRV) and operates 365 days of the year.

Prince William worked with the ambulance service for two years and flew his last shift as a pilot for EAAA in 2017. In a farewell letter to his colleagues, he said he had a 'profound respect' for those working for the charity and was proud to work with 'such an incredible team of people'.

The Duke of Cambridge was a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance for two years

The Duke of Cambridge was a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance for two years - Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire


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Now in a more challenging year than ever, EAAA has been tasked 1,328 times by helicopter, 1,061 by rapid response vehicle and helped 1,603 patients in 2020.

Each trip by air costs £3,500 and the charity requires around £13million in funding each year to keep going.

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The helicopters have flown a staggering 88,800 miles and supported 284 patients with the dedicated aftercare service.

Teams have been more recently engaged in transferring critical ill patients between intensive care units to help hospitals during the pandemic.

Patrick Peal, CEO of the East Anglian Air Ambulance

Patrick Peal, CEO of the East Anglian Air Ambulance, called the mission milestone as a poignant moment for the charity - Credit: East Anglian Air Ambulance

Ollie Handley, a 14-year-old go kart racing prodigy from Colchester, nearly lost his leg in a horrific crash in March and has recently been able to get back out onto the track thanks to the swift care he received from the air ambulance. 

The teenager hit a wall of tyres at 58mph and broke his femur in three places in what the surgeon said was the worst spiral break she had ever seen. After months of physio he finally got back behind the wheel in October.

East Anglian Air Ambulance was founded in 2000

The East Anglian Air Ambulance was founded in 2000 and requires around £13million in funding each year to save lives - Credit: East Anglian Air Ambulance

Speaking after the service’s 30,000th callout, Patrick Peal, CEO of EAAA, said: “It’s a very poignant time of year for EAAA to have reached this milestone, as our service doesn’t stop over the holidays and both of our crews will continue to be there for patients in need, 24 hours a day, right across the Christmas period.

"Although not something we can celebrate, as that’s 30,000 times the red phone has rung to say there’s someone out there in a bad way that needs our help, it just goes to show what an important lifeline EAAA is for the region, especially when we have only been operational for 20 years.

He added: "We have ambitious plans to take our service to the next level in 2021, by starting to fly 24/7 for the first time, and this is only possible due to the generosity of the community which funds us."

Work began in January to build a 24/7 flying base in Norwich which will allow the charity to operate its life-saving helicopter 24 hours a day from Norwich Airport — becoming the first air ambulance in the East of England to do so.

Community-funded highly-skilled doctor and critical care paramedic teams currently operate 24/7 by rapid response vehicles but flying will allow them to reach hundreds more patients.

The charity currently has one H145 helicopter at Norwich Airport, named Anglia One, and Anglia Two at Cambridge Airport.

The helicopters fly at around 158mph and can reach anywhere in the region within 25 minutes.

The new base has cost in the region of £7million and works have been delayed by 16 weeks this year due to the pandemic, however Mr Peal hopes the facility will be finished in just a few short months.

He is incredibly proud of the charity's supporters, who have ensured EAAA has been able to carry on its vital work despite the hit to their funding from the pandemic.

Mr Peal added: "We urge everyone to stay safe over the festive period and to keep on supporting EAAA in any way that you can, so that we can continue to be there for the local people who need our help in their darkest hour.”

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