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Friday, 19 September 2014

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Great North Air Ambulance celebrates 10th anniversary

Cumbria's air ambulance marked a decade of saving lives with a party on the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake.

Air ambulance photo
Paramedic Terry Sharpe, Dr Theo Weston and paramedic Andy Dalton

People who owe the Great North Air Ambulance Pride of Cumbria their lives attended the ceremony, joining fundraisers, volunteers and crew.

Among the fundraisers was Hazel Barker, the widow of police officer Bill Barker, from Egremont, who died directing traffic from Workington’s crumbling Northside bridge during the November 2009 floods.

Bill supported the air ambulance for many years before his death, raising funds for the service. Now Hazel has pledged to continue his work. At the party, held at Armathwaite Hall Hotel, she said: “We would not have missed today. She [the Pride of Cumbria] just means too much to us as a family.

“She has saved so many lives and is a credit to the people of Cumbria who have kept her flying. They should be applauded.

“In Bill’s words, while I have breath in my body, she will never come down again.”

The aircraft was launched in August 2004 after a joint fundraising effort by the Great North Air Ambulance and the News & Star. It was named the Pride of Cumbria after a reader competition.

It was initially based in Appleby, before moving to the Penrith police headquarters. It eventually found its home at Langwathby, where it is still based today.

However, the service was grounded temporarily in 2005 when the charity’s funds ran dry. But local people rallied and the money was raised to get the Pride flying again.

Since then, the service has expanded and upgraded.

Terry Sharpe, crew paramedic, said the air ambulance has made 4,500 rescue missions in Cumbria alone since the service launch.

The rapid relay to hospital is not the only benefit of the service. Dr Theo Weston, a regular crew member on board, said the enhanced expertise of the crew can also prove critical.

“If you have someone anaesthetised at the road side they can almost go straight into theatre on arrival at hospital.”

It’s estimated that each mission costs around £2,500, accounting for the aircraft, fuel costs, staffing equipment and drugs.

In the last financial year the helicopter was dispatched 482 times and volunteers say it’s crucial that people continue to donate to keep the service going.

Grahame Pickering, chief executive of the Great North Air Ambulance Service, thanked everyone who has ever supported the charity.

He said: “Every contribution, from the loose change to the substantial gifts left in people’s wills, it all makes a difference.”

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