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Meet the Cornish flying midwives

By WBGraeme  |  Posted: January 31, 2014

The team of flying midwives with Chief Petty Officer Alf Kitwood.

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MIDWIVES who regularly fly across Cornwall with the Navy’s 771 Search and Rescue squadron learnt some valuable lessons about being airborne on a trip to RNAS Culdrose.

The distinctive red and grey Navy Sea Kings are frequently called on to transfer pregnant women from the Isles of Scilly to mainland hospitals and on at least two occasions babies have been born in the sky during these moves.

The most recent was in October last year, when the helicopter Rescue-193 was flying expectant mother Elle McLachlan from the islands to the Royal Cornwall Hospital, at Truro, when baby Marcus’s arrival added an extra person to the crew list.

“It was a pretty exciting flight,” said Lieutenant-Commander Guy ‘Chuck’ Norris, the observer on that aircraft.

“We’d planned on a straightforward transfer direct to Treliske hospital, but baby Marcus had other ideas.”

Delivering the baby that evening was Sue Merritt, a midwife from the Helston Birthing Centre, assisted by the aircrew from 771 Naval Air Squadron.

“Today we’re briefing up midwives who are called upon to fly when we have a pregnancy to transfer,” said Chief Petty Officer Alf Kitwood, a search and rescue aircrewman.

“It’s so important they know what to do when the aircraft is airborne and if we should have an emergency.

“They are there to look after the mothers and babies, but to us they are part of our crew, they have a great deal to offer.”

Often the flying time from the Scillys to the hospital at Treliske, is little more than 20 minutes, so things can happen pretty quickly when a baby is imminent.

“I’ve delivered babies in the back of ambulances and that’s fairly tricky,” said Becky Lee, a midwife from Penzance and veteran of three search and rescue shouts with the Navy.

“The most important thing is to keep baby warm. The most effective way is to put the baby on mum and wrap them up. Once on the ground we can then rush them into hospital where we have all the equipment.”

The group was shown the cabin area in the back of the Sea King where they would be expected to work and all the safety drills they would need to know should the aircraft develop an emergency.

They took a keen interest in the contents of the Medical bags carried in the aircraft and what kit they would need if a medical situation should happen when called out on a shout.

Becky continues, “This has been a great opportunity to chat with aircrew and see what they’ve got in the back of the aircraft. It’s really exciting when we get called out and being treated as part of the crew is great. Knowing as much a possible before we go flying can only help us when it’s wet and freezing in the dead of night.”

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