Grounded air ambulance back in the East Lancashire skies

Burnley and Pendle Citizen: An air ambulance over East Lancashire An air ambulance over East Lancashire

ONE of the three North West Air Ambulance helicopters grounded yesterday was back in the air from 8am today.

The EC135’s were taken out of service after one of the helicopters, the same model as the one which crashed into a Glasgow pub last month, developed a fault with its fuel gauge.

Now after safety checks, one of the helicopters has been cleared to take off again.

Lynda Brislin, chief executive of North West Air Ambulance Charity said: "We can confirm that one of our helicopters will be operational from 8am this morning, following testing yesterday. We expect to have further news on the fleet today."

A similar police EC135 used by Lancashire Police was kept in the air after moves to keep its fuel tank topped up were introduced.

Operator Bond grounded several other aircraft yesterday after the problem with the NWAAS helicopter.

Air ambulance helicopters deployed across Lancashire’s skies had been grounded in the wake of the Glasgow pub tragedy.

Last week, the planes were cleared for flying despite being the same Eurocopter EC135 model used by Police Scotland, which crashed into the Clutha Pub killing 10 people including the pilot and two officers.

But on Wednesday, a fault with a fuel gauge was discovered in one of the helicopters used by the North West Air Ambulance Service.

Immediately, all three of its EC135s were taken out of service pending further checks, along with 19 more Bond-operated helicopters.

Other helicopters of a different make, carrying doctors and specialist paramedics from elsewhere in the UK, will cover for Lancashire with a maximum response time of 30 minutes instead of 10.

The National Police Air Service is keeping its 30 aircraft, including the Lancashire Police EC135 operating from Warton, flying with extra fuel top-ups as a precautionary measure.

Air accidents investigators this week found ‘no evidence of major mechanical disruption’ on the Police Scotland helicopter.

The Civil Aviation Authority has so far issued no notice to ground EC135s. NWAAS chief executive Lynda Brislin said: “All three North West Air Ambulance craft, along with all other air ambulances using the same aircraft in the UK, have been temporarily suspended.

“While the matter is investigated, our paramedics and clinical staff are deployed in rapid response road vehicles.

“NWAAS will continue to work with other aircraft fleets and will deploy the most appropriate service available.”

NPAS’ Chief Superintendent Ian Whitehouse said: “There is currently no notice in place from the CAA or the original equipment manufacturers to ground any aircraft and so we have not done so.

“If such a notice is put in place then we would immediately and carefully consider it.

“As a precautionary measure, we are increasing fuel levels on all NPAS EC135 aircraft and increasing the minimum level of fuel which pilots are allowed to operate on.”

The Association of Air Ambulances (AAA) said 16 of its 36 helicopters were affected by the grounding and subjected to safety checks yesterday.

A statement from Bond Air Services said: “During normal operations on Wednesday, one of our EC135 fleet has experienced an indication defect that requires further technical investigation.

“Therefore as a precautionary measure we have temporarily suspended service operations whilst we undertake detailed diagnosis. We commenced investigations over- night.”

AAA director Clive Dickin said: “Aircraft of all types occasionally are grounded for bad weather or routine maintenance.

“In these circumstances, other air ambulances and ambulance service providers work closely to ensure no patients are aff- ected.”

Late last night, air ambulance and police helicopters were returning to service across the UK and Police Scotland said restrictions had been lifted and their helicopter had been cleared to fly.

Wales Ambulance Service said two of its three helicopters had been cleared to fly with checks continuing on a third. East Anglia air ambulances also returned to servic.e but the North West Air Ambulances remained grounded, a spokesman said.

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