For one Helston midwife last week it was a real case of “baby one more time” after she safely transferred not one but two new mums by helicopter – and delivered one of the babies 150ft in the air.
To say it was an unusual shift for Helston Birthing Centre midwife Sue Merritt on Tuesday is probably an understatement.
While not unfamiliar with helicopter transfers from the Isles of Scilly, two in the same day, with one birth on board, is somewhat extra-ordinary.
Events began early in the day last Tuesday when she received a call to escort parents Lanie and Neil Wood across to the mainland.
For Sue that meant being picked up by the search and rescue team from RNAS Culdrose and flying across to St Mary’s. Lanie had gone into labour four weeks early and because of that needed admission to the main maternity unit at the Royal Cornwall Hospital.
It was later that day, however, that things really took a turn to the surreal.
Sue received a second call to return to the islands, this time to bring back Ella and Barney Wood. Ella had also gone into labour four weeks early, her baby due a day after the Woods’.
It soon became clear baby Marcus wasn’t intending to wait – and Sue was forced to deliver him onboard the helicopter flying two miles south of Truro, with the help of Petty Officer Aircrewman Gary Kneesh and Lieutenant Commander Chuck Norris.
Although Sue preferred to stay in the background this week, after making national headlines through the unusual delivery, new dad Barney has been keen to publicly praise the midwife and navy crewmen for their role in the safe delivery of Marcus.
Barney, a well-known figure as the baker on the island of St Martin’s, said: “For the first five minutes on board the helicopter I was worried about Ella. Then she seemed to be comfortable and to be honest I was looking around at the helicopter.
“About half way back Ella became uncomfortable and felt she needed the toilet. At that point Sue got us all prepared – she could see signs it was going to happen. We were communicating using sign language because we were all wearing headphones.
“Just as we were coming into land, almost at the exact same instant, our baby was born in the helicopter. The ambulance team picked us up and transferred us to the hospital. We’ve been looked after brilliantly here.
“The Culdrose boys were immense, absolutely phenomenal. At one point they were having to shine a light for Sue. They were hugely caring and did us brilliantly. They always deliver and always look after us.”
Marcus arrived weighing 5lb 3oz and despite none of his clothes fitting yet Barney added: “He’s a little bundle, beautiful – I’m just blown away. I’m on cloud nine and don’t think I’m coming down soon!”
Remembering the flight he piloted, Flight Lieutenant Jon Owen of 771 squadron said: “I gave the crew a ‘ten minutes left to run’ heads up so they could prepare for arrival. However, the midwife shouted back that baby was preparing for his own immediate arrival and that we needed to get ready to deliver in the air.
“I simply looked at the other pilot, Lieutenant Paul Smalley, and we continued to fly as mother nature took over”.
Lieutenant Commander Chuck Norris, the observer on board who has had specific training for a whole range of medical emergencies – although this was his first birth – described it as “an exciting evening,” adding: “It’s pretty uncommon to announce to the coastguard that you had launched with seven persons on board, but were preparing to land with eight!”
Search and rescue aircrew are trained for such events, but it is extremely rare, with this believed to be only the second baby born in a Royal Navy helicopter.
It is unsure at this stage what location will be on the birth certificate.