The specialist HEMS dispatchers (Helicopter Emergency Medical Dispatchers) know that certain situations can quickly change and that without professional help, what seems an inconsequential situation one moment, could quickly deteriorate with potentially serious consequences.

Such was the case for the Bellman family from Gloucester, who had arrived in East Portlemouth for their two-week summer holiday. They were so excited, they didn’t even check into their accommodation, just headed straight for Millbay beach for an afternoon in the sun.

Harry, aged 12 and Joseph, aged 10, were soon ready for the water and off to play on their skimboards. Running along the waterline and jumping on their boards in the breaking waves is just one of the hobbies the boys love.

However, within minutes, Harry had fallen backwards and, quite evidently, broken his wrist. His mum, Helen, could see that the wrist was dislocated and called 999 to ask for advice. However, whilst on the phone to the emergency services, she watched Harry’s hand go blue. At the same time, Harry explained that his fingers had gone numb and he became very sleepy.

Relaying this information to the HEMS call-taker, Helen was advised that Devon’s Air Ambulance was on its way. With pilot Steve Day landing the helicopter safely on the beach, critical care paramedics Paul Robinson and Paul White assessed Harry and administered pain relief.

Learning that Harry was to be airlifted to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, Helen was reassured to discover that she could travel with her son. Their holiday had certainly not got off to the start they expected. As Harry and Helen left the beach in the helicopter, dad Dean and brother Joseph collected everything up and checked into their accommodation before heading to Derriford to see their family that evening.

When asked why the Air Ambulance had been called for ‘just a broken wrist’, DAA’s critical care paramedic Paul Robinson explained: 

“When we assessed Harry on the beach, we found he had an isolated closed fracture and dislocation of his lower arm. It was severely deformed and causing him extreme discomfort. Because Harry’s injuries had caused a reduction in circulation to his injured arm, the potential for long term problems with that limb were very high. It was imperative to secure the correct anatomical position of his arm as soon as possible so full circulation could be returned.

"Harry was brilliant; despite obviously being in extreme pain he remained calm. We explained to him and his parents what we would do to realign his arm so we could reduce the pain and improve the circulation.

“We proceeded to monitor all his vital signs prior to administering an appropriate dose of Ketamine. Harry was fantastic, remaining still throughout the procedure which would have helped considerably as all the evidence shows the calmer the patient is the more effective this strong pain killer is.

The procedure went well and only took a few seconds; then a vacuum splint was applied to Harry’s arm to stabilise it for the flight to Derriford. Almost immediately, Harry seemed a lot more comfortable and was even able to have a light-hearted chat with us en-route to hospital wishing he had a better view out of the window!

Harry had surgery on his hand the following day and, after two nights in hospital, was discharged to continue his holiday. With the resilience of youth, it wasn’t long before Harry had adapted to having his arm in plaster and was back to enjoying the rest of his time in the South Hams, albeit without the fun of skimboarding!

Their letter to thank the aircrew prompted an invitation for the family to visit Devon Air Ambulance when they were next in the county. Coincidentally on their visit, they were reunited with both Pauls, the two paramedics who attended Harry’s incident, and were able to find out much more about the work of the service that came to their rescue that day in August.


  • Banner - Harry and his mum, Helen in the helicopter
  • Top right - Harry in the helicopter on his airbase visit
  • Above left - Harry with the crew who attended him on his airbase visit