Midwives from West Cornwall who regularly fly with 771 Naval Air Squadron, the Navy’s Search and Rescue Helicopter Unit learnt some valuable lessons about flying recently with aircrew at Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose.
The distinctive Red and Grey Navy Sea Kings that fly over the South West of England are frequently called on to transfer pregnant women from the Scilly Isles to mainland hospitals and on at least two occasions babies have been born airborne during these moves.
The last in October last year when ‘Rescue 193’ was flying expected mother Elle McLachlan from the Scilly’s to Treliske hospital near Truro, when baby Marcus’s arrival added an extra person to the crew list.
“It was a pretty exciting flight,” said Lieutenant Commander Chuck Norris the Observer on that aircraft.
“We’d planned on a straight forward transfer direct to Treliske Hospital, but Baby Marcus had other ideas!”
Delivering the baby that evening was Sue Merritt a midwife from the Helston Birthing Centre assisted by the aircrew from 771 NAS.
“Today we’re briefing up midwives who are called upon to fly when we have a pregnancy to transfer,” said Chief Petty Officer Alf Kitwood, a SAR Aircrewman with 771 NAS. “It’s so important they know what to do when the aircraft is airborne and if we should have an emergency. They are there to look after the mothers and babies, but to us they are part of our crew, they have a great deal to offer.”
And it’s this close interaction between the Aircrew and Midwives which is so important to the largely rural community of Cornwall that the Navy Rescue Helicopters serves. Often the flying time from the Scilly’s to Treliske Hospital is little more than 20 minutes away, so things can happen pretty quickly when a baby is imminent.
“I’ve delivered babies in the back of ambulances and that’s fairly tricky,” said Becky Lee, a Midwife from Penzance and veteran of three SAR shouts with the Navy. “The most important thing is to keep baby warm. The most effective way is to put the baby on mum and wrap them up keeping them both warm. Once on the ground we can then rush them into hospital where we have all the equipment.
The group was shown the cabin area in the back of the Sea King where they would be expected to work and all the safety drills they would need to know should the aircraft develop an emergency. They took a keen interest in the contents of the Medical bags carried in the aircraft and what kit they would need if a medical situation should happen when called out on a shout.
Becky continues, “This has been a great opportunity to chat with aircrew and see what they’ve got in the back of the aircraft. It’s really exciting when we get called out and being treated as part of the crew is great. Knowing as much a possible before we go flying can only help us when it’s wet and freezing in the dead of night.”