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Tain biker: ‘SCAA saved my life’ after horror crash which left him in hospital for 13 weeks

Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) touching down at the scene at Elphin.
Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) touching down at the scene at Elphin.

A Tain man is thankful to be home after an outing last summer on his motorbike led to a life-threatening crash and 13 weeks in hospital.

Ernie Nicholson believes the crew of Aberdeen-based Helimed 79 saved his life after a collision at the end of September in Elphin on the North Coast 500 left him with horrific injuries.

Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) airlifted him from the scene in Lairg to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, taking around 20 minutes to travel the 70-mile journey.

Raigmore Hospital in Inverness

Mr Nicholson’s Kawasaki Vulcan collided with a campervan on a corner as he slowed to travel through the crofting township on the A835 Ullapool to Ledmore road.

He had been out on last ride with his bike club before the accident, and woke up face down on the road, which his broken wrists “facing the wrong way” and with broken bones in his right leg too.

He spent 10 hours in theatre as surgeons worked through the knife to set his bones.

‘SCAA saved my life’

Mr Nicholson, a legal document courier,  said: “It’s a twisty and bendy road, and it had been a long time since I had been there, and I saw a campervan off in the distance.

“I took a corner slightly wide and I think it did the same, and I hit the side of it and then all I remember is crunch.

“And then coming to lying on the ground, facedown with my elbows up in the air and a pile of people around me.

“The land ambulance crew didn’t want to move me and next I remember the SCAA crew coming out and introducing themselves to me in their red suits before someone gave me pain relief.”

He added: “SCAA saved my life. I think I would have been in a much worse state if I’d gone by road.

“The Inverness air ambulance was out at another job so there was no other way.”

After two weeks in Raigmore, the 49-year-old was transferred to Invergordon County Hospital and was only allowed home 11 weeks later on Christmas Eve.

Having settled back in at home, he told The P&J: “It’s been hard work but I am getting there, slowly. It all takes time.

“I’m moving about a lot more now due to the stairs in the house and with my dogs, Skye and Barney.

“I got to spend Christmas Day with my twin brother, Robert and my house-mate.

“Neighbours have come to the window for a blether, it’s been nice to be home for some normality.”

The former East Sutherland Rescue Association volunteer knows it will be a long journey to recovery and being free of the modified zimmer frame he is using to walk.

Fundraising for SCAA and plans to ride again

But he plans to organise a fundraiser for the charity which helped him survive the traumatic crash.

“I would hope to get back on a bike again,” he said.

“But it all depends on my wrists and how they feel for getting on to a bigger bike again.

“What I hope to do when Covid is in our past is a big bike run with the club and hold a barbecue at the other end of it to raise money for SCAA.

“We only have one government-funded helicopter in the Highlands and having another is far better cover for such a large area.

“If Inverness’ Helimed 2 is out on a job, there wouldn’t be an alternative to road ambulance without SCAA.”


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 – call sign Helimed 79 – to be based in our region.

But this is an emergency service, taking off from Aberdeen Airport in April 2020, that relies entirely on donations. 

Each call-out costs about £2,500 and SCAA needs P&J readers to help hit its £6million target and get things off to a successful start.

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


Ways to donate to SCAA

  • Website: www.scaa.org.uk/donate
  • Text: Text ‘SCAA’ and the amount to 70085
  • Phone: 0300 123 11 11
  • 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

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