Northern Ireland’s first air ambulance touches down in Belfast

Air Ambulance Northern Ireland trustee Ray Foran (left) and chairman Ian Crowe with one of the two helicopters which will deliver Northern Irelands first-ever Helicopter Emergency Medical Service

Air Ambulance Northern Ireland trustee Ray Foran (left) and chairman Ian Crowe with one of the two helicopters which will deliver Northern Irelands first-ever Helicopter Emergency Medical Service

Northern Ireland’s first-ever air ambulance touched down in Belfast on Wednesday as part of a flying visit.

One of the two helicopters which will deliver the Province’s Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) is undertaking a three-day visit.

The Airbus helicopter arrived outside Titanic Belfast before heading to Enniskillen on Thursday and Portstewart on Friday.

The Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) charity plans to permanently base two helicopters in Northern Ireland.

The visiting helicopter will provide the main service while a second will be kept on stand-by to ensure minimum down time.

Ian Crowe, chairman of AANI, said: “We’re delighted to publicly unveil the actual helicopter which will provide Northern Ireland’s first HEMS service.

”The service will bring us into line with other regions in the UK and Ireland, and will help save an expected 18 to 50 lives every year.

“The support we’ve received from the public and local businesses has been fantastic, and this visit is an opportunity to say thank you and encourage others to get involved.”

Annual running costs for the service will be £1.8m and AANI is relying on the generosity of local people to help raise these funds.

Offering her support for the event, Health Minister Michelle O’Neill thanked the community for its “enthusiasm and support” for the HEMS project.

She added: “I also want to thank the trustees who have been working closely with the Ambulance Service and health commissioners to prepare for the implementation of HEMS.

“I understand that their careful planning is drawing to a close, and I hope to be in a position to make a further announcement about the implementation of the service in the coming weeks, once I have fully considered the medical advice regarding the operating model.”

Ray Foran, an AANI trustee, added: “These modern twin-engine helicopters were designed specifically with emergency services operations in mind and come fully equipped for HEMS and air ambulance operations.

“The main helicopter will also be equipped with weather radar to maximise its effectiveness.”

The deputy lord mayor of Belfast and supporters who have helped raise funds for AANI are among those who will have the opportunity to inspect the helicopter at close quarters during its visit.

The helicopter will bear the call sign Delta 7 in memory of the late Dr John Hinds.

The Co Down man led a campaign for an air ambulance service to be introduced. Dr Hinds regularly provided medical care at motorcycle racing events such as the North West 200.

He died in an accident in July 2015, but his partner continued his campaigning work.

The helicopters and pilots will be supplied by Babcock Mission Critical Services, the leading provider of HEMS across the UK. The medical staff and equipment will be provided and funded by Health and Social Care services.