NW200 crash survivor Violet McAfee glad to see 'fantastic' air ambulance service
A woman who was almost killed in a crash as she watched the North West 200 has praised the "fantastic" new emergency medical helicopter service for Northern Ireland.
Violet McAfee suffered serious head and leg injuries in the collision last year in Portstewart, when a motorbike travelling at more than 100mph catapulted into the driveway where she had been watching the race with friends.
Yesterday, she greeted the Hospital Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) helicopter as it touched down in the Vauxhall International North West 200 paddock.
"It is absolutely fantastic to have this helicopter service now and I am so glad to be able to be here to see it," she said.
Joining her were road racers Ryan Farquhar and Ian Morrell, who were also injured in separate crashes. All three had to be airlifted to hospital by non-medical helicopters after their accidents.
"It is just a pity that Dr John Hinds wasn't here to see it too," said Violet.
Dr Hinds, known as one of the flying doctors who followed racers around the track on a bike, was a member of the MCUI Medical team who treated Violet. He became a leading campaigner for a HEMS facility in Northern Ireland before his death at the Skerries 100 road races in 2015.
His death and the need for air transport for Violet and Ryan Farquhar have been recognised as a crucial influence in finally securing the service.
"Lives will be saved with this service," said Farquhar.
"I know that first hand, because there is a good chance that I would not be here today if it wasn't for a helicopter being there after my crash to take me to hospital."
A PSNI helicopter had transported Farquhar when he was critically injured at the Supertwins race this year. Violet had relied on a Coastguard aircraft to get her to hospital in time.
Ian Crowe, chairman of Air Ambulance Northern Ireland, said: "We wanted to bring the first HEMS helicopter to the North West 200 paddock to let people in this area see the new helicopter."
The Air Ambulance Northern Ireland (AANI) charity will have two helicopters stationed here, with the hope it could save 18-50 lives each year. It is understood that the service will come into operation early next year.
North West 200 Event Director Mervyn Whyte called it a "huge milestone" for emergency medical care in Northern Ireland.