Ryan Farquhar says the new Helicopter Emergency Service will undoubtedly save lives after the air ambulance visited the North West 200 circuit on Friday.
Farquhar, who was seriously injured in a crash during the Supertwins race at the international road race in May, was present to greet the new helicopter along with fellow crash victim Ian Morrell plus spectator Violet McAfee, who was badly hurt after being struck by a motorcycle during an accident at the event in 2015. Crumlin’s Stephen Thompson lost part of his left arm in the incident, which also involved Horst Saiger and Dean Harrison.
Ms McAfee spoke of her delight over the provision of the service for Northern Ireland, but said she was saddened that Dr John Hinds – a leading campaigner for the HEMS facility here – was not alive to see the fruits of his labour.
“It is absolutely fantastic to have this helicopter service now and I am so glad to be able to be here to see it,” she said.
“It is just a pity that Dr John Hinds wasn’t here to see it too.”
Dr Hinds, a highly respected member of the MCUI Medical Team who treated Ms McAfee, was killed in a freak crash at the Skerries 100 in 2015.
Meanwhile, Farquhar, who hasn’t ruled out a racing return next year, said: “Lives will be saved with this service. I know at first hand because there is a good chance that I would not be here today if it wasn’t for a helicopter being there after my crash to take me to hospital.”
A PSNI helicopter transported Farquhar to the Royal Victoria Hospital following his crash, while Ms McAfee was airlifted to the RVH by an Irish Coastguard helicopter last year.
Portrush rider Morrell was also transported to hospital by helicopter after being seriously injured in a crash at the Kells road races in Co Meath in 2015.
The helicopter is on a three-day visit to Northern Ireland and Ian Crowe, Chairman of the Air Ambulance Service NI, said: “We wanted to bring the first HEMS helicopter to the North West 200 paddock to let people in this area see the new helicopter.
“We have had so much support from the motorcycling community and the new service will be here for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.”
NW200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte described the new service as a milestone for emergency care in Northern Ireland.
“We have seen the importance of having an airborne medical service over the last two years and this new helicopter is a huge milestone for emergency medical care in Northern Ireland,” said Whyte.
“The motorcycle racing community has provided strong support for the service and although we all hope that none of our races will have to avail of the service in 2017, it is reassuring to know that we have this facility available if it is required.”
This year’s North West 200 was abandoned following the tragic death of English rider Malachi Mitchell-Thomas in the main Supertwins race.
The rising young star died following a crash at the same part of the course where Dungannon man Farquhar came off in the opening race for the 650cc machines.
The new helicopter service is due to become operation early in 2017.