Armoy air ambulance pilot praised after flying to racer's aid
The pilot involved in the dramatic rescue of a critically injured road racer has been praised for his heroics after landing his helicopter "on a sixpence".
The Irish Coastguard was called to the Armoy Road Races in north Antrim after motorcyclist Ian Simpson crashed and suffered a serious head injury.
Spectators watched on helplessly as the pilot carefully manoeuvred his way past electrical lines to a clear landing spot close to where the accident happened.
The partner and family of the injured motorcyclist, who is in his 40s, have maintained a bedside vigil beside the father-of-one.
There was some good news yesterday after Mr Simpson was moved out of the intensive care unit.
His condition is now described as 'stable'.
Motorcycling journalist Roy Harris, who was among the spectators, described the harrowing moments after the crash.
"The pilot didn't have the easiest place to land but he circled the area three times to see where he could do it safely and then landed it on a sixpence," he said.
"He had to carefully manoeuvre his way past the electrical overhead wires and land near the track.
"As the accident happened on the circuit the pilot was only able to land as close as he could get.
"It was tricky to get it on the ground as there was little space to land a helicopter of that size.
"This was all happening in a place with a huge crowd.
"The pilot did a very good job. It had actually been out on a exercise job off the north coast and it arrived fairly quickly.
"You know it's a serious injury and is fairly critical if a helicopter needs to be called." Mr Simpson is from Armoy where the event is held, and crashed during the 400cc Supersport race shortly after 4pm on Saturday.
His partner, Katrina Hartin, with whom he has a young son, remained at the Royal Victoria Hospital with his family when the motorcyclist was moved to the high dependency unit.
Just days before the race, the injured rider's sister Karen Simpson took to Facebook to wish her older brother well in the annual race.
She said: "Just want to wish my big brother Ian Simpson the best of luck for the Armoy Road Races this weekend.
"I will be up to support and cheer you on. Keep her lit and between the hedges!"
The Armoy Motorcycle Road Racing Club confirmed yesterday that the latest news on his condition was "positive".
Course Clerk Bill Kennedy visited Ian and his family yesterday afternoon at the RVH.
He said: "Ian stated that he was very appreciative of all that the club, and in particular the medical staff, had done in ensuring he got to hospital and in his care to date.
"Obviously Ian and his family are personal friends of many within the club and we send him our very best wishes for a speedy recovery. We are aware that the many local fans and the wider road racing fraternity will be keen to know how Ian is and at this stage we are delighted to say the news is positive."
The collision took place at the Church Bends area of the track.
It is described as a "tight right-hand corner followed by two sweeping left-hand corners that curls around the Church on Glenshesk Road".
The Irish Coastguard helicopter had to be called to transfer the rider to hospital as there is currently no medical aircraft available in Northern Ireland.
Liam Beckett, who also attended the race, described the moment of the accident.
"In that particular race, the red flags went up.
"It happened at a part of the circuit known as the Church Bends which would have been about one-and-a-half miles into the circuit," he said.
"The longer the delay, the more we knew it was quite serious. The air ambulance arrived and got the rider off as quickly as possible to hospital."
The crash comes amid growing calls for a dedicated air ambulance service for Northern Ireland following the death of local road race emergency medic Dr John Hinds.
It is estimated that the service would cost £2.2million a year to run.
Dr Hinds had led the call for an air ambulance here before he was killed on his motorcycle while providing medical cover at a practice event for the Skerries 100 in Co Dublin on July 3.
Road racing fans had put up a display dedicated to the racing doctor in Armoy, and held a minute's silence to remember the man who had saved so many motorcyclists' lives in the past.