Landing our helicopter safely requires the skill and expertise of an experienced pilot but this isn’t all that is needed. The safety of our crew and anybody in the vicinity of our aircraft is our main priority and it’s essential that people who are near to the helicopter when it is either landing or taking off understand how and why they need to maintain a safe distance.  

Close encounter

Seeing a helicopter land close to where you might be standing can be quite the spectacle! Not only is the shiny red aircraft something you don’t see every day, but it really is quite exciting for the young and older alike. Many people ask if we are on a training exercise and sometimes we are, but it’s safe to say that you should always assume that we are not, and that we are responding to someone who needs the urgent critical care of our specialist medical team on board. 

Sometimes, the natural curiosity of bystanders can hinder our approach and just recently, when we were tasked to Northernhay Gardens in Exeter, we were forced to abort our landing and make a second attempt thus allowing those that realised our intention, time to move a safe distance away from the landing site. A second landing attempt takes extra valuable minutes that we don’t want to lose, as the extra time in the air could easily change the outcome for the patient we are arriving to assist. 

Safety first

Our helicopters weigh in at a staggering four tons so control and concentration is vital upon approach, landing and take off. Our pilots need to negotiate the helicopter around any obstacles in the air and on the ground, all whilst dealing with ever-changing weather conditions. All eyes are on the scene and everyone on board takes an active role in checking to make sure the helicopter is clear to land.  

To land the aircraft safely, our pilot will need a space that is about 35-17 metres square - that’s about the size of a tennis court. In many cases, members of other emergency services at the scene and even members of the public do a fantastic job of asking people to move back to a safe distance in order to create a clear space for us.  

We expect people to be inquisitive and excited to see us and we often find that people on the ground are a great help - residents in the area can be particularly helpful, often pointing out the quickest routes for us to access our patient even allowing us to walk through their own gardens to reach them. 

Our main priority is for everyone to stay safe around the helicopter, and please be sensitive to the patient that we are attending. Once the engine is shut down and the rotor blades are still, it is safe to approach and our crew will signal you to do so, they will welcome spectators to come and say hello but only if they are not treating a patient in the immediate vicinity of the aircraft. 

 
We’ve put together some Bystander Do’s & Don’ts, just in case you find yourself near to the helicopter as it is responding to a real-life emergency... 

Do’s  

If you see the aircraft approaching or landing nearby there is a risk of downwash – that is the rush of air being pushed down by the helicopter blades. The downwash can actually lift objects which might cause a potential risk to bystanders or the aircraft itself. The most common problems we face are dust, sand, cut grass and other freestanding objects which could be blown towards you. 

To protect yourself from downwash, the best thing to do is to go round a corner or stand behind something solid, a building being the best choice. Otherwise, step as far away as possible, a minimum of at least 100 meters. This is for your own safety, but also for the safety of our helicopter crew and the patient who is waiting for our swift arrival. 

Don’ts 

Please don’t move into the space that the helicopter may be trying to land in. We love to see the photo’s you’ve captured of our helicopter and crew on social media, but please do this from a safe distance and if possible, wait until we are leaving the scene to get that perfect pic!  

Once we have landed, please do not approach the aircraft until it has fully shut down and you have been instructed to do so by our pilot or members of the crew. Remember that there may be times when it is not appropriate for members of the public to be near or around the helicopter. Never approach the helicopter from behind, the 10 o’clock to 2 o’clock position is ideal so that the pilot can see you clearly from the front of the aircraft. 

We understand that when bystanders see our Devon Air Ambulance crew getting out of the helicopter, well-meaning members of the public might assume it is safe to approach us and offer their help - this is not the case, so for your own safety, please stay at least 100 meters away until the helicopter blades have fully stopped.  

It is important to remember that Devon Air Ambulance is deployed to help the critically ill and injured people of Devon and beyond. Every minute spent reaching our patient is vital to ensure that our critical care team can deliver the specialist treatment that they need as quickly as possible, therefore easing their suffering and helping them to have the best possible outcome. Thank you for your help.

It is thanks to supporters like you that we are able to reach our patients in time-critical situations. We welcome your continued support to make that possible.

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