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RAF helicopter makes emergency transfer of child to Great Ormond Street Hospital

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

An RAF helicopter crew battled through fog last week to transfer a seriously ill child from Norfolk to London's Great Ormond Street children's hospital.

Rescue 125, a Search and Rescue Sea King helicopter based at Wattisham in Suffolk, was scrambled on the night of 22 May to take a three-year-old boy with heart failure from Great Yarmouth’s James Paget Hospital to Great Ormond Street.

Despite increasingly foggy weather in East Anglia, the crew were able to pick up the boy and transport him to a helicopter landing site in Regent’s Park used for the London hospital.

However, with fog now preventing a return to base and having used all their fuel reserves, it was decided that it was safer to remain in London. The unusual parking arrangement meant Londoners on their way to work through the park the next morning were greeted by the sight of a 22-metre-long yellow helicopter.

Wing Commander ‘Harry’ Palmer, Chief of Staff for the RAF’s Search and Rescue Force, said:

The crew used all their training and skill to get this boy to emergency specialist treatment against some really challenging weather, exhausting all their fuel reserves in the process.

After a prolonged night of tough flying, they were directed to get some well-deserved rest before returning to Wattisham.

The site in Regent’s Park is a designated helicopter landing site for medical transfers like this. While it is unusual for an aircraft to remain there for any length of time, it was the safest option.

The crew comprised aircraft captain Flight Lieutenant John Rowe, co-pilot Flight Lieutenant Iain Smith, radar operator Flight Lieutenant Doug Larkam and winchman Flight Sergeant Andy Leonard, and while they stayed overnight in London a second RAF helicopter and crew took over Search and Rescue duties in the East of England.

Flight Lieutenant Rowe explained:

The main point was to get the young lad to medical care. Wattisham was fogged in and we didn’t have enough fuel if we needed to divert, so we elected to set down in Regent’s Park.

It’s always pleasing to complete the task, whatever it is.

Rescue 125 is part of 22 Squadron, one of two RAF Search and Rescue squadrons around the country.