When mum of two, Alison Upton, went on furlough from her busy job, she was full of plans to entertain her children when they’d completed their home-school lessons.

Thursday 4th June 2020 was Alison’s first day off and, with the slight easing of the lockdown restrictions allowing for further travel, Alison packed up the car for a day at Haytor Rocks on Dartmoor. Having spent so much time indoors during the previous few weeks, Emilia, aged 10, and James, aged 7, were keen to run off some steam and were very happy to run up the hills.

After a lovely morning scrambling up and down the rocks, the family stopped for a picnic lunch, enjoying the wind in their hair and the splendour of the great outdoors. With lunch finished, Emilia and James wanted to climb a different section of the rocks. As Emilia climbed nervously, the more confident James went on ahead, with warnings from Alison to ‘be aware of the moss, it’s very slippery underfoot’. All was going well, and Alison was happily helping her daughter to overcome her concerns about climbing, when James lost his footing and tumbled down the rocks beside them.

Landing feet-first but crumpling to the ground, James wailed in pain. Alison faced a dilemma: staying with her daughter Emilia, who was very distressed about what had just happened and needed help to navigate down the rocks, and James below them, screaming out in pain.

Leaving her daughter with instructions to stay still, Alison hastily scrambled back down to James, about 10 feet below. It was immediately evident that he had landed heavily on his ankle, with his foot now at a very odd angle, but Alison was reassured to see that he hadn’t hit his head. Hearing the cries, a couple walking nearby rushed over. As the gentleman called 999, the lady went to help Emilia down from the rocks. Alison gave James her jumper as he became pale and shivery in the cool breeze.

The lady kindly stayed with Emilia and there was relief all round when they heard the noise of a helicopter overhead, and even James was distracted a little from his pain. Devon Air Ambulance paramedics Cat McMorrow and Lee Hilton ran to the scene.

“They were complete heroes,” explained Alison in a letter of thanks to DAA.

They were just brilliant; immediately offering pain relief to James and reassurance to us both. They even had foil blankets to keep us warm.

Alison’s next dilemma was a choice of James going in the helicopter to hospital, but not being allowed to travel with him (because of the PPE/covid-19 restrictions), or the slower option of travelling with him in a land ambulance. “If his injuries had been life-threatening, I would have opted for the helicopter without further thought,” she explained. “But he’s only seven, and I thought he’d prefer me to stay with him. So we missed out on the helicopter ride, for which he still hasn’t forgiven me!”

James had broken his tibia and fibula and was discharged the following day with two pins fitted and his whole leg in plaster. Alison added, “So much for all the plans I’d made for being on furlough! But we’re so grateful for the help we received that day. The kind couple who stayed with us, the 4x4 team and land ambulance crew who took us to Torbay and, of course, the aircrew from Devon Air Ambulance who flew to our rescue.”

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