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Laser attack aborts our lifesaving mission

Wiltshire Air Ambulance was subjected to a laser attack over Bath last night (Sunday 10 April 2022), which meant the helicopter was unable to land to treat a patient.

The charity’s aircrew had been called to a medical emergency at 21:42 and were approaching Combe Down, Bath, when a green laser beam was shone several times in the direction of its Bell 429 helicopter.

The crew had to abort their landing and stand down from the mission. The pilot and one of the critical care paramedics on board sustained headaches and felt their eyesight had been affected by the incident.

Wiltshire Air Ambulance chief pilot Matt Wilcock said: “This laser attack has had a real impact, endangering multiple lives.

“We were unable to tend to a patient in peri-arrest. This is a crucial moment where our critical care paramedics are able to intervene before the patient goes into full cardiac arrest.

“The incident also affected our aircrew, meaning we were unable to continue flying for the rest of the shift, with a potential knock-on effect for other patients. The crew will be given full medical checks and support from the charity.

“We are grateful to the South Western Ambulance Service for continuing to support the patient and the local Police, who themselves have recently suffered from laser attacks to their own helicopter.”

He added: “Nobody should be shining laser pens at aircraft. Not only is it illegal and highly dangerous, you never know who that aircraft is coming to help. Just think if it was en route to help you or one of your loved ones.”

Avon & Somerset Police inspector Ruth Gawler said: “Shining a laser at any aircraft seriously endangers the lives of those inside it as well as people on the ground.

“Not only is it extremely reckless but it is also a criminal offence which carries with it the penalty of an unlimited fine or a prison sentence of up to five years.

“Anyone with information about this incident is asked to phone police on 101 and tell the call handler they’re phoning in relation to log 1134 of 10 April.”

Mike Pavey, Crime and Violence Reduction Officer at the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We will be working closely with our colleagues at the Wiltshire Air Ambulance and the local Police forces to find and prosecute those responsible for this serious crime.

“The Critical Care Team bring enhanced lifesaving skills to patients when they need it most. They are a hugely valued team and they do not deserve this unacceptable behaviour when they are trying to provide care to patients. Every emergency service worker should be able to do their job without fear of attack.”  

The South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust sent an operations officer and a double-crewed land ambulance to the original incident and conveyed one patient to Royal United Hospital, Bath. 

Wiltshire Air Ambulance is a charity which provides Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) across Wiltshire, Bath and surrounding areas. It costs £4 million a year to continue flying and saving lives.

The charity’s helicopter was targeted four times by laser attacks in 2020, with a further occurrence in 2021.

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