Nick Thomas and Terry Sharpe enjoyed a reunion this week. They first met in 2009. Nick had crashed off his bicycle while zooming downhill at about 50mph. The 48-year-old suffered a broken shoulderblade, broken ribs and a broken collarbone. He also punctured a lung.

Terry was one of those who went to his rescue. Terry is a senior paramedic with the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS).

He recalls: “Nick was in a very bad way. He couldn’t lie down because it was causing more pain, so he walked into the ambulance.”

Nick was airlifted to Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital where he spent three weeks. Just as important were the 20 minutes it took to fly him there. The journey would have taken nearly an hour and a half by road.

Nick lives at Langwathby, where the GNAAS has one of its two bases. He is back on his bike, and cycled to the base this week to meet Terry.

He says: “It’s a great opportunity to come and meet the people who helped you and just say thank you.”

This is National Air Ambulance Week. It’s an annual celebration of the work done by air ambulance teams around the country.

In reality, every week is air ambulance week. Every day of the year crews are saving lives.

GNAAS is a charity which operates three helicopters across the North East, North Yorkshire and Cumbria. They attend about 1,000 incidents each year.

Cumbria is one of the places which needs an air ambulance most. Its remote nature means helicopters can slash hours from journey times and reach mountainous areas inaccessible by road. The low vibration of the helicopter also enables patients to travel more comfortably than on road.

The service helps visitors as well as locals. Many people suffer injuries on remote fells, often while climbing, walking or cycling. Other common crises include road accidents and medical emergencies.

Norman Salmon has been saved by the air ambulance after collapsing in Cumbria on two occasions, three years apart.

Like Nick Thomas, Norman was at GNAAS’s Langwathby base this week to meet and thank the crew. He was airlifted to hospital seven years ago after collapsing in a field next to his house with a heart problem.

The 66-year-old from Coupland Beck, near Appleby, says: “What I remember is that there was a young girl staying in the cottage next to where it happened.

“The air ambulance paramedics decided that I couldn’t walk to the helicopter, so I was put in her car and she drove the two or three hundred yards to carry me over. She was only 17 and was really nervous.

“I also collapsed on one of the Ullswater Steamers at Glenridding about four years ago and was airlifted again.”

Norman and his wife Helen were already familiar with the work undertaken by air ambulances.

“Our son Lee used to be a paramedic on the air ambulance so we know all about the good work they do.

“It’s great to come down and meet the crew. I chatted with the pilot and asked all sorts of questions about it. They’re so professional and caring and have helped so many people.”

Speed is one of air ambulances’ main strengths. Another is the specialist trauma doctors and paramedics who bring accident and emergency expertise to the scene of an incident. These experts include Sarah Graham from Bassenthwaite, who started work as a paramedic with GNAAS last month.

Sarah works from both of its two operations centres: at Langwathby and at Durham Tees Valley Airport, near Darlington.

The 39-year-old was previously a paramedic with the North West Ambulance Service and North West Air Ambulance.

She says: “I’ve already attended such a variety of jobs from road traffic collisions to medical collapses, horse riders and climbers.

“Every call-out comes with its own difficulties.

“It’s about managing the whole situation and being accustomed to prioritising casualties if there are a lot of patients who need treatment.

“It can get pretty intense but we go through a lot of training to be able to deal with it. We’re all human so it is hard at times but we have a team debrief after every call-out which really helps after a difficult job.”

She adds: “It’s been fantastic. The energy and enthusiasm from the team is so evident. The level of care offered to patients is exceptional.

“All of us living in Cumbria are lucky to have such a service on our doorstep.”

The service exists thanks to the generosity of people in the area it serves. GNAAS needs to raise £4.5m every year to remain operational.

Much of this comes from Cumbria. The county has many loyal supporters – individuals and businesses – who donate and organise fundraising events.

People who have been treated often credit the crew with saving their lives. Some go on to be fundraisers, indirectly becoming lifesavers themselves.

Last year readers of The Cumberland News raised £60,000 to buy new lifesaving equipment for The Pride of Cumbria which is usually based at Langwathby and works mainly in Cumbria.

It has served the county for 12 years since our sister newspaper the News & Star and GNAAS launched the Sky Medics campaign, aimed at providing Cumbria with its own air ambulance.

By August 2004 more than £100,000 was raised to enable The Pride of Cumbria to take to the skies. It has been saving lives ever since.