Air ambulance seeks night landing sites in Sid Valley

A helicopter in the dark by paramedic Darren Hall

A helicopter in the dark by paramedic Darren Hall - Credit: Archant

Airborne paramedics will be able to shave valuable minutes off response times - even in the hours of darkness - if a suitable night-time landing site can be found.

The Devon Air Ambulance Trust (DAAT) has appealed to town councillors to consider locations around the Sid Valley, which will need investment from the community.

The charity could use an existing floodlit site or develop a new one as it looks to extend its operations.

Toby Russell, DAAT’s helipad development officer, told a meeting of Sidmouth Town Council last week: “We currently don’t fly at night-time. That will change later this year – one will be flying until midnight.

“It will make quite a significant difference. Part of our vision is to eventually offer a 24-hour service.”

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In the daytime, the pilots land as close to incidents as they can, but overnight they need well-lit sites to operate safely.

Mr Russell said the helipads should be accessible and as central as possible so the paramedics can link effectively with land ambulances.

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The cheapest option, at £1,500, is using existing floodlit areas such as sports pitches, with a modification to allow the lights to be activated remotely. Alternatively, solar-powered lights can be installed, although at £10,000 this is the most expensive option. The middle range choice would be fitting lights to an existing power supply.

The lights would need to stand on 10-metre-high columns – a height council chairman Jeff Turner said may be a concern for nearby residents – and face downward to prevent glare in the pilots’ night-vision goggles.

Councillor John Dyson said the town centre rugby club could fit the bill, as it is close to the hospital, although Sergeant Andy Squires said it is not the easiest location to reach by land.

Town clerk Christopher Holland suggested the rugby pitch at Sidford – but said Mr Russell is best placed to know which sites meet DAAT’s requirements.

Members will draw up a shortlist of potential locations for him to consider.

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