Unveiling of plaque at Islay Airport on Sunday 19th August 2007.

Plaque is in memory of Capt. Paddy Calderwood, Rad. Off. Hugh McGinlay and Sister Jean Kennedy who died when the Air Ambulance  plane (DH. Heron) crashed on Islay on 28th.Sept.1957.

 

I am very honoured to have been asked to speak today. The Scottish Air Ambulance Service arose from two events in May 1933. The first was when Dr. Donald Stuart organised the carrying of a man with an acute abdomen from Islay to Glasgow and then a week or so later, my father, the late Dr. Alex.J.Macleod used the same aircraft to carry a dying patient (Rev Gillies) back from Glasgow to North Uist where the aircraft landed on the sand near his manse. This has been commemorated by North Uist Community Council who erected a cairn overlooking the landing site. Thus it was established that an aircraft was an excellent way of transporting ill patients both to and from hospital. Both these flights were funded by The Daily Record whose editor had, for three years, been campaigning for such a service.

I find it fascinating that I should be here today….flown directly  from the beach at Sollas, North Uist by Andy Hopper of Cambridge in his Cessna 210.

         

My parents became very friendly with many of the pilots, particularly, John Hankins, David Barclay, Don Hoare, Paddy Calderwood and Eric Starling. In the mid 60`s, I became friendly with Pat Eadie and am still in close contact with him in New Zealand. He has had treatment for throat cancer and has major speech difficulties. Recently, his wife sent me a photo of him in his kilt at his daughters`s wedding and despite his throat problem, the smile and the twinkle were still there. Pat had a particular affection for Islay. Captain Bill Innes flew Herons before going on to large aircraft and he does a lot to revive memories of the early days of island flights.

 

My mother, the late Dr. Julia Macleod, was also involved with the flights, in two ways. One was that my father had made it his rule that a doctor would always be present for the departure of a patient. If practice commitments prevented him from being there, then my mother went. Her other role was to make up a basket with coffee and sandwiches for the crew and the nurse. The crew`s favourite filling, in the fifties, was Uist Mutton. However if the flight was on a Friday, my father always had to find out if Hugh McGinlay would be coming and she would make a different batch for him.

 

The weekend of the crash, I was passing through Glasgow and I was able to stay on and represent our family and the people of Uist at the funerals of Captain Calderwood and Radio Officer McGinlay.

 

When the call for the aircraft was received, the weather reports for Islay put it below the BEA limits for a landing. At that time, it was up to the Captain to decide whether or not he would fly and usually they did. Captain Calderwood decided to go. Following the crash, this option of choice was removed from the Captain and the decision from then on, was made by a company manager. However on the fateful day, Captain Eric Starling immediately took off in another Heron to collect the patient.

 

In my time as GP for North Uist, myself and my patients were extremely grateful for the excellent help provided by the Scottish Air Ambulance Service. In 1984, I was very glad of the speed with which they carried myself when I had the Meningitis of Louping Ill which I had got from a Tick bite. For many years, I have frequently lectured about practice in a remote island nationally and abroad and I usually spoke of the organisation. I always emphasised that the doctor calling out an emergency flight, in poor weather, must carefully balance the benefit for the patient against the potential risks to the flight crew. When Iain Hutchison wrote his book (Air Ambulance), which is the definitive history he kindly invited me to write a chapter. I tried to coax him into giving it a secondary title of “Flying Angels” as that is how I have always thought of the crews of the Scottish Air Ambulance Service.

 

Thank you for inviting me to take part in this ceremony and giving me this opportunity to praise the air crews, para medics and nurses who provide this wonderful service.

Further reading……”Air Ambulance” by Iain Hutchison.

ISBN 0-9518958-1-8.