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Grieving mum wins her battle for new Highland helipad

Heather Teale at the site of the proposed helipad in Applecross.
Heather Teale at the site of the proposed helipad in Applecross.

A campaign by an Applecross mum for a life-saving helipad in her village has come a step closer to fruition, with plans now lodged before Highland Council.

Heather Teale set herself the task of raising funds for the helipad after her 18-year-old daughter Bethany Walker died of sepsis in January 2018.

Bethany was airlifted to Raigmore hospital from the car park of the Applecross Inn after her flu-like symptoms worsened and developed into bacterial pneumonia and sepsis.

But despite the efforts of an eight-strong medical team, her life could not be saved.

Bethany Walker

The Former Plockton High School pupil had not long returned from a year of travelling, mainly around eastern Europe and had planned to study midwifery at Aberdeen University.

Her grief-stricken mum described her as “the most amazing, kind-hearted, generous loving person ever, intelligent and beautiful”.

After her daughter’s death, Ms Teale threw herself into fundraising thousands for the UK Sepsis Trust, and a helipad for the village.

She launched a Just Giving campaign to raise £30,000.

Once the helipad is in I won’t have to watch the helicopter circling back and forth looking for somewhere to land, it gives me terrible flashbacks.”

Heather Teale

She said: “We have enough money, but I am continuing to fund-raise for things like maintenance, and possibly fencing and gates.

“It will be a heavy-duty helipad for the air ambulance, coastguard helicopter and RAF, but it will be covered with grass so it will aesthetically blend in.

“It won’t be for leisure use.”

Ms Teale said the need for the helipad was greater than ever with the amount of tourists thronging the area with tents, firepits, vehicles and motorhomes in the summer, attracted by the NC500 route.

She said: “Fortunately in Bethany’s case the helicopter managed to land in the pub car park as it was early morning on January 5, but for the majority of the year the car park is full.

“Once the helipad is in I won’t have to watch the helicopter circling back and forth looking for somewhere to land, it gives me terrible flashbacks.

“The local terrain doesn’t allow a helicopter to land, and the air ambulance can’t carry sufficient fuel to circle looking for a suitable place.”

It is two hours by road to Raigmore hospital under good conditions, and longer in the summer with crowded roads, whereas the air ambulance can make it in around half an hour.

The Applecross community threw itself behind the project.

We reckon to get around twelve call outs a year, that’s potentially twelve lives saved.”

John Glover

John Glover, chairman of Applecross and District community council said: “It was a really successful collaboration by the community council, Applecross Trust, Healthcare Association and the crofters.

“It’s been getting busier all the time here since the NC500 and it’s difficult for pilots to know if there would be any vacant spot to land in.

“We reckon to get around twelve call outs a year, that’s potentially twelve lives saved.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Air Ambulance Service said “In emergency situations air ambulance helicopters are permitted to land wherever possible to respond to a patient in need; however the provision of a helipad with appropriate lighting can often provide a quicker and safer means of landing in remote locations.

“The introduction of a helipad for the Applecross community would provide us with a dedicated location to allow the air ambulance to meet up with the road ambulance and may therefore reduce the time it takes to get a patient to hospital.”

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