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Year One: Aberdeen’s air ambulance crew still ‘pinching themselves’ in dream job

Nearly 100 people have been flown to hospitals across Scotland after the first year of work for the north-east’s Helimed 79.

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance’s (Scaa) Aberdeen-based crew took up work on April 3, 2020.

And last night lead paramedic, Ewan Littlejohn, said his team were still “pinching themselves” to have been given the opportunity to help those most in need in the north and north-east, his dream job.

They have so far been called to 196 emergencies, the vast majority to those who had suffered severe and traumatic injuries.

Around 65% of that work was within Grampian, though the service has proved a lifeline to Orkney and remote parts of the Highlands too.

The national ambulance control is able to call upon Scaa to attend emergencies in far flung spots or when people need prompt transfers to hospital, while a team of consultant doctors also based at the airport sometimes ride along with the charity crew to bring even more advanced care to the scene.

And Scaa’s work load might have been far greater, but for the lockdown that was imposed due to coronavirus less than two weeks before take off.

Lockdown a ‘bubble of protection’ for new Scaa crew

Mr Littlejohn told The P&J: “On one hand, the lockdown has been a blessing since we are a brand new team in a brand new setup, so it’s provided a bubble of protection to get us all up to speed.

“On the flip side of that, it’s been hectic with the organisation – we just don’t know what normal will be for us.

“The first year has been difficult due to Covid but we are slowly getting there.

“It is an ongoing process, naturally as is the case with new facilities.

“Once people get used to us being here and ambulance crews are requesting us to the road too, it will improve.

“We haven’t been able to educate them as we would have liked, so it’s ongoing.”

Challenges crew ‘never experienced before’

For his colleague Rich Forte from the the learning curve has been steep.

He had previously worked with Scaa as a reservist for the Perth-based Helimed 76 crew, which launched in 2013.

“Being here and experiencing a spring right through to winter has been ace seeing all the hills and snow.

“It’s been beautiful although challenging flying is something I never had to experience before.

“Also the darkness and time pressure of being at the helipad, have been challenges and big learning points.

“Aberdeen is the major trauma centre so the majority of the time, patients benefit from going there but then there is fuel planning and whether we can actually get there.

“These are logistics you never think about on the road, as you just take everyone to Aberdeen whereas now we can take them to loads of different hospitals.”

Pilot ‘privileged’ to further the reach of hospital experts with Scaa

A year in, after 12 months they had certainly not envisaged when they signed up for the job, the crew is still optimistic about their work and helping people across the country.

Pilot Pete Winn said: “Coming here, the big highlight has been operating up towards Glenshee, taking skiers off the hills.

“It is great to be able to take rapid medical care all the out there and 25 minutes later have them at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, getting to hospital.

From Afghanistan to Aberdeen: Meet the former RAF pilot hired to save lives in the north-east

“For a pilot, flying in the most beautiful part of Britain, I’m very fortunate to do this role in this location and getting to provide that service to the people of Scotland.

“I feel very privileged to do so, compared to some of my colleagues flying around East Anglia where it’s boring and flat, I get to fly around the beautiful Highlands of Scotland.”

Lead paramedic Mr Littlejohn added: “We have to pinch ourselves really, it’s amazing.

“We are very, very fortunate – not everyone gets to fly about in a helicopter and see the scenery.

“We want to be a little busier but that will come.”

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance has made a huge impact since 2013, saving lives and preventing suffering.

That is why the P&J campaigned successfully for Scaa’s second helicopter to be based in our region.

It has now been a year since the aircraft – call sign Helimed 79 – started flying missions from Aberdeen Airport.

But this is an emergency service that relies entirely on donations.

Each call-out costs about £2,500 and SCAA needs P&J readers to help hit its £6million target to cover the cost of its first three years operating in the north-east.

So please do anything you can to raise those funds and show that We’re Backing Helimed 79.

Ways to donate to SCAA
  • Website:
  • Text: Text ‘SCAA’ and the amount to 70085
  • Phone: 03001231111
  • Cheques: Made payable to ‘SCAA’ or ‘Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance’ and sent to: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA), The Control Tower, Perth Airport, Scone, PH2 6PL