Over the past three decades we have attended over 35,000 incidents, saving lives and improving patient outcomes from the skies above Kent, Surrey and Sussex. Our achievements were spearheaded by the vision of our founder, Kate Chivers, who was the driving force behind a team of people determined to provide a dedicated Air Ambulance for Kent, which was then extended to Surrey and Sussex.
On 6th November 1989, her vision was realised when the South East Thames Air Ambulance was born. On that day, Sir Peter Baldwin KCB, Chairman of the Regional Health Authority, signed an agreement with Kenneth McAlpine, Chairman of McAlpine Helicopters, for a specially equipped Twin Squirrel, G-SETA helicopter to operate from Rochester Airport. McAlpine would underwrite the cost of the helicopter and pilot for three months while other costs were underwritten by the health authority.
Our First Mission
Just over a month after the agreement was signed, on 23rd December 1989, the air ambulance was called to its first mission. Sixteen-year-old Michelle Leather was flown from her home near Tenterden to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, where she was able to receive life-saving treatment within just seven minutes of being released by the helicopter’s paramedic team.
Michelle was the first of many to benefit from the life-saving activities of the air ambulance. Kent's Chief Ambulance Officer remarked at the time: "There is no doubt that lives have been saved. In its first week of service, it answered eight calls. In two of those, it was considered that the patient would probably have died had treatment not got there so quickly.”
The following year, the Air Ambulance Appeal was launched to help fund the service. It was followed six months later by the introduction of a lottery, which managed to raise £200,000 in a year and helped secure the immediate future of the highly valued service which so many people depend upon today.
Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex has attended 35,000 incidents since its inception in 1989. We are committed to providing the highest quality of care to our patients and ensuring our life-saving service is available to as many people as possible, regardless of the time of day.
Following the signing of an agreement between the Regional Health Authority and McAlpine Helicopters, the South East Thames Air Ambulance is born. Sixteen-year-old Michelle Leather becomes our first patient in December of that year, marking the beginning of service that has impacted on thousands of lives thanks to the skills and speed of response of the team.
On the 26th July 1998 we were devastated to lose our dedicated crew Graham Budden, Mark Darby and Tony Richardson when our aircraft tragically crashed, due to mechanical failure, near Bluebell Hill, Kent. They are forever in our thoughts.
We move to a purpose-built facility in Marden and take ownership of an MD 902 Explorer G-KAAT helicopter. This new model had a bigger cabin and extra safety features, such as no tail rotor, enabling crew to land in tighter locations.
Clinical trials are undertaken to assess the value of carrying doctors on board to provide an ‘A&E service’ from the air. Crucially, this would enable medical specialists to make a diagnosis at the scene of the incident and, if necessary, transfer patients to a hospital where there are specialist facilities best-suited to treating the type of injuries sustained.
A dedicated Helicopter Emergency Medical Service desk is introduced at Ambulance Control, staffed by one of the charity’s own crew. This enabled us to identify serious trauma and life-threatening medical emergencies, where our assistance could make a real difference.
In a significant development, following a successful fundraising appeal, the Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance was launched from Dunsfold Park providing a dedicated air ambulance for those counties for the first time.
The charity undertakes a research and development programme to ensure the latest medical interventions are being used effectively, with areas covered including airway management, cardiac arrest, night air ambulance operations and patient outcomes.
We start carrying blood on board to perform transfusions at the scene of an accident or medical emergency. It is a move that results in more hospital admissions for patients who may not have previously survived.
With research indicating a clear patient need for air ambulance services to operate at night, the CAA regulations are changed to allow suitably equipped Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) aircraft to make ad hoc landings at night when responding to emergencies. Having moved operations from Dunsfold to Redhill Aerodrome, and added a new night-capable aircraft, the first 24-hour HEMS service in the UK takes flight.
The AW169 medical cabin simulator is constructed at our Redhill base, enabling our medical teams to practice the management of patients in the aircraft. Crews now also have an increased ability to be able to conduct research into how care might be improved and enhanced whilst patients are transported to hospital.
All of our work and innovations are funded by our amazing supporters. The simulator was greatly supported by the dedicated and tireless fundraising efforts of the family of one of our patients.
Experience of night flying operations and ever-increasing daytime demand points to the need for more capable aircraft to answer more complex patient needs. The service is now equipped with two AW 169 helicopters, providing more cabin space, an extra 400kg (approximately) of available lift, and greater endurance to reduce reliance on fuel stops - a vital factor in night operations.
Donate now to help us save lives
£7.50 a month could pay for twenty disposable blood pressure cuffs used to measure a patient's blood pressure.
£50 could fund 300 syringes used to administer life-saving drugs at the scene of an incident.