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Neil Jeffers air ambulance pilot
Andy Parsons

Things you only know if you’re an Air Ambulance pilot

Danielle Goldstein

…according to Neil Jeffers, 45.

It takes a year to learn how to land a helicopter in London

‘If you imagine a tennis court but make it a square, that’s the size of the site we need to land in: 24 by 24 metres. We can land on a box junction, the top of a multistorey car park, Trafalgar Square or any of the city’s parks. In an emergency we’re flying along at about 1,000 feet – lower than the height of The Shard – at up to 150 miles per hour, trying to identify the most suitable sites.’

The Air Ambulance can close airports…

‘We are afforded a thing called “category alpha priority”. When we take off on a mission, the air traffic controllers will clear the airspace for us. If we were to fly near Heathrow, they’d have to shut the airport until we’d landed.’

…and perform advanced surgery

‘We might give a patient a thoracotomy, which is where you open the chest so you can sew up holes in the heart and bring them back to life. We are also the only service in  the world to perform Reboa (that’s resuscitative endovascular balloon occlusion of the aorta) pre-hospital.’

It takes £10m a year to stay in the sky

‘We are a charity and not only are we keeping the aircraft in the sky, we have six response cars and the staff. We do have some help from Barts, the hospital to which we’re affiliated, and the London Ambulance Service, but otherwise it all depends on constant fundraising.’

The crew do amazing things to raise funds

‘We have a pilot, a doctor, a paramedic, a CEO and an ex-patient running the Marathon des Sables, which is a 150-mile race across the Sahara Desert. It’s insane, but we hope to raise a lot of money.’

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