Flying doc’s dream a reality as first air ambulance touches down

Pictured with the Airbus helicopter is Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) chairman Ian Crowe and trustee Ray Foran.

Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye
Pictured with the Airbus helicopter is Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) chairman Ian Crowe and trustee Ray Foran. Picture by Jonathan Porter/Press Eye

The call sign of Tandragee ‘flying doctor’ John Hinds, who was killed in a motorcycle crash last July, is to be used by Northern Ireland’s first air ambulance service.

One of two helicopters which will provide the service touched down in Belfast yesterday (Wednesday), and it was a bitter-sweet occasion not only for the family of Dr Hinds but that of Armagh girl Lesley-Ann McCarragher who have been fundraising for the air service.

Dr Hinds, a consultant at Craigavon Area Hospital, who regularly provided medical care at motorycle races, had campaigned tirelessly for a Northern Ireland air ambulance, along with his partner Dr Janet Acheson, who works at Craigavon Area Hospital.

At his funeral, fellow racing doctor Fred MacSorley from Lurgan said his colleague’s Delta 7 call sign pager, which had been deactivated by the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS), should be inherited by an air ambulance.

He told the mourners, “I would hope with the dedication and help of people around that in the years to come the call sign Delta Seven will be heard as it has been cleared to land in the heliport at the top of the Royal Victoria Hospital.”

Meanwhile, the family of Lesley-Ann (19), who was killed by a hit-and-run driver, were among those who attended a viewing of the air ambulance in Enniskillen.

The former head girl of City of Armagh High School was airlifted to hospital after her accident and her family invited people to donated to the Air Ambulance Northern Ireland Charity (AANI).

The charity plans to permanently base two helicopters in Northern Ireland, one which will provide a main service while the second which will be kept on standby.

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

More details of the implementation of the service will be announced in the coming weeks.

Ian Crowe, chairman of AANI, said the air ambulance service “will bring us into line with other regions in the UK and Ireland, and will help save an unexpected 18 to 50 lives every year”.

The service has been welcomed by Upper Bann MP David Simpson, who thanked people for getting behind the hard-fought campaign to bring it to Northern Ireland.