They’re the men and women whose expertise and clear, cool thinking makes them, quite literally, a team of ‘Superheroes’– and the good news is that, as of January 23rd, these local life-savers are now on call for even longer hours every day.

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) has introduced a night-flying service, enabling it to extend its service from 12 to 19 hours every day, and now operating from 7am until 2am.

That means the charity’s specialist paramedics and doctors can now provide cover for those fraught night-time hours, when, according to Chief Executive Alex Lochrane, rush-hour traffic and city night life can often lead to higher levels of accidents and critical injuries.

Preparations for the launch of the night service had been going on for two years, and then in earnest since last autumn, when the Southampton-based charity took delivery of a new, state-of-the-art helicopter with capability for night flying.

The enhanced model H135 was delivered to HIOWAA’s airbase at Thruxton on October 25, and then crews launched into a series of intensive night training exercises.

According to Alex, this involved them in learning, among other things, how to work with high-tech night vision goggles, which, he jokes, “make the paramedics look like Arnold Schwarzenegger!”

By January 23rd, the team was all trained and ready to go – although, because of adverse weather conditions, it wasn’t until a few days later that they undertook their first night-time mission, to a road accident involving a teenage cyclist with a severe head injury.  Thanks to the team’s prompt action, which involved having to induce a coma, the youngster was sitting up in bed 48 hours later.

_R6C8448“We’re able to transcend all the bureaucracy of the NHS and get to the person when they need it most” explains Alex.  “That first 60 minutes, or what we call the ‘golden hour’, can often determine not just the survival of the patient, but their quality of life afterwards.”

Incidents on the Isle of Wight may be less likely to be road accident or attack-related than in the larger cities of Hampshire – but the Air Ambulance can still be seen regularly coming in and out of Newport, often airlifting seriously ill patients or falls victims to specialist hospitals on the mainland.

“People living around Newport will know Helimed very well” says Alex “as it’s in and out of there, if not once a day, then at least 2-3 times a week”.

HIOWAA prides itself on the close links it has with the communities it serves – and nowhere more so than on the Island, which has a dedicated band of around a dozen volunteers led by Pat Knight.  These stalwarts back the charity’s work here by giving talks, taking stands at shows, and doing all-important fundraising.

“Because the Island is just that bit further away, it’s great that we have such a self-sufficient band of volunteers operating there” says Alex.

Indeed, many people are still surprised to learn that the HIOWAA receives no funding whatsoever from government, statutory bodies or the National Lottery for its routine operations – relying totally on the generosity of people and businesses in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight to keep the service running.

This is why education is another big part of what the charity does – and its latest initiative for schools, the “999 Superheroes” project, is proving so popular and successful that other Air Ambulances elsewhere in the country are looking to adopt it.

It’s a great way of engaging even quite young children in learning about what the Air Ambulance does – and showing them what to do if ever they need to call on the service.

Educational visits to Island schools are ongoing, but the charity’s Schools and Youth Co-ordinator Jo Hennessy was on the Island several times in January, delivering the “Superhero” message to youngsters at Godshill Primary, Nine Trees at Newport, Holy Cross in East Cowes and Newchurch Primary in Sandown.

State-of-the-art kit

VickiThe new H135 helicopter was purchased fully equipped, with a price tag of £4.5 million.

It features skids, which are ideal for the varied terrain it will encounter in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and is kitted out with an ‘Aerolite’ medical kit that includes a life support system, and monitoring and cardiac massage machines.

Among the technical spec of the 12.26 metre-long craft are two Turbomeca engines, a fast cruise speed of 157 mph and a range of just over 800 km with a routine endurance time of 3 hours 40 minutes.

It is fitted with two Garmin GPS systems, moving map displays on iPad minis, power line detection system, night vision goggle compatibility and Trakka high intensity searchlight.

But as Alex Lochrane points out, by far the most valuable resource on board the H135 are the two onboard ‘Superheroes’ – a paramedic with a minimum of 4-5 years on the road, and a trauma doctor with an average of 15 years’ experience.

A real case study: The heartfelt story of why a former patient is raising money for the Air Ambulance

Danielle-and-ethan-1Less than a year after being involved in a serious car accident, which put her in a coma for over two weeks and led to her arm being amputated, foster carer and mum of one Danielle Bartley took on a terrifying challenge to raise money for the Air Ambulance and show just how grateful she was for her rescue.

It was back in November 2014, that Danielle was involved in a serious road traffic collision on the M3, which left her fighting for life.

Tragically, she ended up having her right arm amputated just below the elbow, but Danielle openly admits that, without the help of the HIOWAA crew at the scene, she would not be alive today.

Climbing over the O2 building

That was why, last September, and less than a year after her accident, Danielle courageously climbed a walkway over the top of the former Millennium Dome in London, to raise money for the Air Ambulance.

Despite being prone to vertigo, she confronted one of her greatest fears to conquer the grand peak of the O2 at 52 metres – a climb that took her around 90 minutes and raised over £2,000 for the charity.