“Saving time saving life”

Marden road signThis slogan on the sign at the entrance to the village explains why the Air Ambulance charitable Trust chose to move to Marden: the strategic geographical location of the village made it an ideal spot to reach all the main places of Kent in a few minutes.

Since its launch in 1989 the Kent Air Ambulance has attended over 14,000 incidents, an average of two to three missions per day. Hundreds of lives have been saved.

In this context we can’t forget that the Air Ambulance has saved lives in the village of Marden as well. Early on the 19th June in 1993 a person was rescued in Marden. This was the chairman of the Marden History Group. David McFarland told us of his experience:


David MacFarland

The chairman of Marden History Group, David McFarland

“On the day in question I was mowing the grass, at the edge of our drive next to a ditch, on my motor mower. I was listening to the test match on my head phones and anticipating a trip in 15 minutes time to the Bull Inn at Linton for my usual Saturday night pint.

I lost concentration and tipped into the ditch, I managed to protect my legs and moved to turn off the ignition to the right of my seat. I failed to see that the cutter was upright and put my right hand in to it. My hand looked like a piece of steak but was still attached to my arm.

Luckily my wife was at home. At first an ambulance, then the air ambulance duly arrived.

I was strapped and plugged in, and with a wave with my left hand to the surrounding crowd, left Selby oast, only to fly over the Bull at Linton on the way to Maidstone Hospital. My pleas to drop in for the anticipated pint were turned down, as my thirst grew.

I was later operated on for four hours of micro-surgery at Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead, where an artery, four bones and nerves were put back in to working order. I also had a pleasure of meeting the surviving “Guinea Pigs” of Dr. McIndoe who were visiting the hospital at the time (the “Guinea Pigs” was a Club formed from patients of Dr. Archibald McIndoe at the Queen Victoria Hospital. During World War II the soldiers of the club were called with this term for the experimental nature of the reconstructive plastic surgery). Now my hand is fully functioning apart from an inability to do a respectable “thumbs up”.

Today Mr. McFarland is particularly grateful to the Air Ambulance but his thoughts turn to the tragic incident of the 26th of July 1998 when during an air crash the Pilot Graham Budden 40 and the paramedics Mark Darby 37 and Tony Richardson 47 were killed.

After the accident David discovered that the two paramedics who died were the son and the brother of two of his colleagues; a tragic coincidence which doubly distressed him. For this reason David remembers in a special way these guys, who helped a lot of people and lost their own lives saving the lives of others.

Michael Lutener

Michael Lutener after his accident

Another important testimony of a village rescue comes from Michael Lutener who was rescued in just a few minutes thanks to the new location of the airbase in Marden. In October 2009 the retired farmer broke his pelvis in two places, when he was run over by the back wheel of his tractor. He phoned his wife to say he had had an accident and so the Air Ambulance took him to the Kings College Hospital in London. Then Mike was moved to St. Georges Hospital in London for surgery. The doctors at the hospital said to Mr Lutener that he wouldn’t have been alive without the professionalism of the crew who put the belt around him in the right way. This was a positive outcome which led Mr and Mrs Lutener to be grateful to the expertise of the air ambulance crew, which by that time already had Doctors on board.

However this efficiency has been possible only after years of hard work, which didn’t leave Marden with a simple hangar with heliport, but also with a building designed to unify the charity staff and the air ambulance crew.

The Air Ambulance started to operate in this county from November 1989 through the South East Thames Air Ambulance service. This started on six-month trial basis and immediately it revealed how useful it was to save lives in serious accidents.

From 1991 the health authority stopped giving money, so the Air Ambulance was at great risk of closing down. Nevertheless, the volunteers intensified their fundraising, which was held in a lot of different ways: from the selling of lottery tickets door to door, the presence of volunteers in fairs, clubs and big companies, also the collection of clothing for recycling. This hard work led the Kent Air Ambulance to achieve their aim of being a separate and independent charitable Trust by the 18th December 1993.

On July 26th, 1998, while the Air Ambulance was returning from a routine mission, the helicopter collided with power cables, and dived into a field in Burham near their base at Rochester airport. Pilot Graham Budden and paramedics Mark Darby and Tony Richardson were killed instantly. It was the only fatal accident to happen in the UK involving an air ambulance. The Civil Aviation Authority carried out an investigation into the crash but failed to identify the cause of the tragedy.

The crash disheartened all the staff, but enormous solidarity encouraged all them to carry on their project, even more motivated than before. After 5 weeks the service restarted with a new helicopter named with the initials of the crew who were killed: G-KGMT. To honor them Kate Chivers, who is the founder of Air Ambulance, was determined to operate the service every day of the week. Before the accident the Air Ambulance was operating on 5 days a week but was operating on a 7 days per week trial basis during the time of the helicopter accident.

At the same time the staff began to look for a new place which could unite the headquarters, the offices and the Air Ambulance. The new construction had to lead to savings in operating costs and make the service more efficient and effective.

The start of the work

Alan Firmin's family with Kate Chivers at the start of the works in Pattenden Lane

So after evaluating several places in the neighbouring parishes it was decided to choose some land in Pattenden Lane to build a centre from new. From Marden a helicopter could go to all the main areas of Kent in a few minutes.

However the Air Ambulance Trust couldn’t afford the cost of the new building until a big donation of £180,000 came from the local philanthropist Alan Firmin, who had business interests in Pattenden Lane.


The Air Ambulance helicopter MD902 explorer

After two years of work the new centre became operational in April of 2000. The building was accompanied by the arrival of one of a new generation of helicopters (MD902 explorer) which has a separate area for patients away from the pilot. This was an important breakthrough which allowed the paramedics to do a first aid on board. This step also allowed doctors on board the Air Ambulance, who started to fly missions in 2005.

Research has shown that in 15% of cases it has made a real difference to the patient’s outcome, but Doctors are still currently paid for through the charity.

In June 2007, with support from Penelope Keith CBE, the Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance was launched from Dunsfold Park, situated on the Surrey and West Sussex border. This was a significant move forward for the Kent Air Ambulance Trust, as it was agreed between the counties that if two emergencies were to happen at different ends of Kent, it would be possible to draft in the Surrey and Sussex helicopter if the Kent helicopter was already attending one of the incidents.

Kate Chivers

Kate Chivers during a ceremony in her honour

On 24th September 2007 the founder of the Kent Air Ambulance, Kate Chivers, was honoured in a special ceremony at the base in Marden and the current helicopter was given her name. In all these years Kate has experienced first-person the many obstacles and all the breakthroughs of the Charitable Trust. Today the Air Ambulance is an important institution in the village, different campaigns of familiarisation and fundraising are held in the school and at other public events.

Open Day

Air Ambulance Open Day

Every year the Marden airbase opens its doors for Air Ambulance Open Day. This is a special occasion for anyone who wants to see the Air Ambulance Centre and to know what it represents for Marden and the entire County: an event loved by the local children.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://www.kssairambulance.org.uk

This article was written by Gianluca Giannico from Italy, during his internship at Marden History Group. We are most grateful for the hours of work he has put in to provide this article for us. 04.08.2011.

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