Heading skyward with the air medics

NRHNpl120131a1 'Air Ambulance feature
NRHNpl120131a1 'Air Ambulance feature

In a small Portakabin behind the main terminal of East Midlands Airport - a lifesaving operation is taking place 365 days a year.

And on a clear Saturday I was lucky enough to see how the entirely charity funded Derbyshire Leicestershire and Rutland Air Ambulance (DLRAA) work.

NRHNpl120131a2 'Air Ambulance feature

NRHNpl120131a2 'Air Ambulance feature

“It’s a changing job, it’s extremely interesting, it’s rewarding and it is unlike any other helicopter job that I’ve done - and I’ve done a lot!” Pilot Ian Welsh, 59, of Duffield, tells me before we take to the air at around 7am.

The crew captain has racked up more than 8,000 flying hours in his career as a helicopter pilot - 18 years of which saw him serving as an airman in the army.

And at 9.30am we are called out to our first job.

An infant has suffered a fit in the Peak District village - 60 miles away as the crow flies.

The crew of the DLRAA

The crew of the DLRAA

But in the speedy Agusta chopper we are touching down in the High Peak in under 20 minutes.

Luckily the youngster is not in a critical condition when paramedic Dave Roberts, of Midland Road, Heanor, and Dr Pam Hardy, of Elgin, Morayshire, arrive. The High Peak is a common call out spot for the team - especially in icy conditions - due to the location.

On the return to base the crew are called again mid-air. An 18-year-old girl was involved in a road accident in her car on an icy main road near Ashbourne, and due to the remote location, the air ambulance is the first on scene.

After being forced to touch down on a precarious slope, Pam and Dave deliver vital care to the frightened teenager, fitting a neck brace and ensuring she is safe to travel in a road ambulance to hospital.

It’s all in a day’s work for Dave, who formerly worked as a paramedic in Derby before taking to the air.

“I wanted something more challenging,” he said when we had a brief moment to chat earlier in the day. “Something out of my comfort zone, a bit different. It’s very rewarding - especially when people come back to say thank you. It puts it all into perspective.”

In the afternoon the air team face its toughest job of the day.

A man in his 40s has suffered a serious motorbike accident and is in a critical condition in north Derbyshire. The head injury needs to be treated by specialists and his best chance of survival is at North Staffordshire Royal Infirmiry in Stoke-on-Trent.

Here it is easy to see why the service is so important. Not only can the helicopter team provide him with care at the scene - Captain Ian makes the journey to Stoke in 12 minutes.

The whole operation - from leaving the base to touching down in Staffordshire - takes just 45 minutes.

It is why the funding the charity receives - via its 11 shops, sponsorship drives and generous donations, is vital.

Every journey costs it £1,400. And the craft itself was no snip at £5million. But as all the crew agree, keeping the DLRAA in the sky is worth every penny.