Boy (11) reunited with rescue heroes at Northern Ireland air ambulance official launch
A boy who was seriously hurt in a farm accident met the heroes who came to his aid as he helped to officially launch Northern Ireland's air ambulance yesterday.
Conor McMullan was working on his family's beef and sheep farm in Castlewellan, Co Down, helping his sister with machinery, when the accident occurred on July 22.
A tractor reversed, crushing Conor so badly it fractured his skull and left him fighting for his life. At the same time, in Lisburn, the air ambulance crew had been preparing for the service's launch when the call came through.
They were able to fly Conor from the farm to Belfast in just eight minutes, shaving half an hour off the response time and saving the boy's life.
Conor's father, John, said: "It's inevitable that it's going to happen somewhere - you get so many near-misses in farming and we've had many. We are calling this a near-miss too, although it's that bit closer than you'd ever want it to be.
"I think everyone in the farming community knows the risks, but from a very young age we all get involved. You know the dangers and do your best to avoid them, but things can still happen. The road network near us is very poor - it takes at least 45 minutes to get to Belfast.
"It was a typical Saturday. Conor and his sister were working with a piece of machinery. She was driving the tractor and Conor was trying to help her hook it off, but he became jammed between the equipment and the wall of the shed that they were in.
"He sustained a fracture to the right side of his head and as a result lost consciousness. It really could have been a fatal accident, but this has helped to get him into the hands of the care that he needed - he's a very, very lucky boy.
"Getting him into the hands of the hospital quickly definitely saved his life."
Conor's mum, Helena, added: "We were just so, so lucky that the team were with the helicopter and ready to come.
"The air ambulance was able to land in a field at the top of the lane, and Conor was stretchered to the helicopter.
"The paramedics didn't want to move him because of his condition. They had to be so careful. Everybody's amazed by how quickly he's bounced back."
Conor is one of five people who were rescued by the service before the air ambulance had officially launched.
Yesterday's official ceremony, which was interrupted by a call-out, marked the culmination of a 12-year campaign.
The fight for the service took on new energy after the death of Dr John Hinds in 2015.
Dr Hinds, one of the 'flying doctors' of Irish road racing, was killed at a motorcycle event in July of that year.
Those behind the air ambulance say public support will continue to be central to its survival.
The service's medical team will be supported by Executive funding, but the costs - around £2m a year - must be paid for by fundraising and donations.
After his week in hospital, Conor is looking forward to starting secondary school, but it will be a while before he is back on the farm.
Dad John said: "He has a bit of healing to do yet, but I'm sure he'll be out again in the future. He enjoys it all and just does anything that needs done."