The Great North Air Ambulance has warned that rogue drones can potentially cause life threatening delays to crews who are trying to transport seriously ill patients to hospital.
The pilot of one helicopter recently had to wait for seven minutes until a drone left the scene of a traffic incident. The drone had been hovering over the site and the crew have been unable to identify who was flying it and recording footage of the incident.
Pilot, Nigel Lynch, said "it’s extremely frustrating really, because despite trying to wave to whoever was looking through the camera on the drone and trying to tell them to move out the way, it just wouldn’t move, so we were just sitting looking at it and we just had to wait.
"We couldn’t do anything. We couldn’t start the aircraft, we couldn’t move off until it had gone.
"I mean every second counts really. The patient was very poorly and had been put into an induced coma by the doctor and the paramedic. We needed to get them to hospital very quickly."
The service provides air ambulance across the North-East, Cumbria and North Yorkshire. It is entirely funded by charity and receives no financial support from the NHS.
Crews told ITV News Tyne Tees that with Covid-19 lockdown restrictions now eased, they are expecting more callouts as members of the public venture outside more.
Paramedic, Ian Grey, said "between the months of April and June this year, it’s definitely picked up. We’ve responded to 490 callouts and things are only going to get busier. Drones can cause a huge issue for the aircraft, especially if we’re on scene and there’s a drone about, it’s only going to delay us either getting to the patient or transporting that critically ill patient from the scene to the hospital."
Nikki Copson knows only too well the impact any delay could have on the family of an air ambulance patient.
Her husband, Nick, was involved in a car crash three years ago. Severely injured, he eventually lost both his legs, paralysing him for life.
She said: "one hundred per cent he wouldn’t have been here today without the air ambulance. He was so critically injured at the scene, you know, he suffered really bad chest trauma, severed artery, he was paralysed at the scene, he was entrapped.
"Again had they not been there, I’d have been a widow. I’d be a widow and I just cannot imagine my life without him."