Two of Cornwall Air Ambulance’s Critical Care Paramedics have scooped the Special Incident Award at the 2022 Air Ambulances UK 'Awards of Excellence' following a dramatic mission.
The annual event recognises the specialist lifesaving skills and commitment of those working tirelessly within the air ambulance community.
This year, Cornwall Air Ambulance was shortlisted in two categories: Charity Team of the Year and Special Incident.
At the ceremony in Birmingham, Critical Care Paramedics Lisa Ball and Pete Storer were named as winners of the Special Incident Award, after helping to save two lives in a dramatic rescue mission on the Cornish coast.
On the 21st October 2021, 22-year-old Angharad Elliott was on a family holiday when she suddenly suffered a seizure on the coast path, and fell 40ft from a cliff located between Nanjizal and Land’s End.
Angharad, who suffers from severe epilepsy, had been out for a day at the beach with her family when it happened.
Her mum, Jo, spotted her in a rock pool within a ravine below. She climbed down while Angharad’s dad called for help.
Cornwall Air Ambulance was tasked to the scene, with Critical Care Paramedics Lisa Ball and Pete Storer on board.
As they flew overhead, they managed to locate the patient, but due to the steep cliffs on either side couldn’t land nearby, and instead had to land in a field high above the beach, which is notoriously difficult to access.
In order to get to the patient, Lisa and Pete had to climb down to the beach then scramble across the rocks.
Within minutes the ravine Angharad was lying in was flooded with water. They quickly moved her a few metres further from the incoming tide. With the water levels rising, the crew wanted to reach a dry area high enough from the water that would enable them to carry out an assessment. However, this area was soon flooded too, and once again the paramedics moved the patient to a nearby ledge.
In less than 20 minutes, the waves were crashing over the ledge. With the situation becoming more precarious by the minute, the crew had to make a quick decision whether they would stay with Angharad and Jo or evacuate.
An impossible situation to find themselves in; they knew if they left, they would both drown. Pete and Lisa thought first of the patient and made the decision to remain on scene, despite the risk to themselves.
They stood between the crashing waves and the patient, using their body weight to pin them down to the rocks.
Lisa Ball, Critical Care Paramedic, recalled: “We were sheltering behind rocks with waves crashing over us all. We were using all our strength to hold them in place, if we didn’t, they would have been washed into the sea.
"The conditions were getting worse, no one would have got into that water and come out alive. The power of the waves would have thrown us against the rocks. Pete and I looked at each other, we work together a lot, and we both knew what the other was thinking. We couldn’t leave them.”
When the Coastguard Search and Rescue helicopter arrived, Angharad was winched directly from the rocks, followed by Jo and Lisa. Once they were in the aircraft, despite being hypothermic herself, Lisa attended the patient, monitoring her vital signs and giving her oxygen. Pete was the last to be winched into the helicopter. Angharad needed rapid stabilisation for traumatic injuries and was taken to the Royal Cornwall Hospital.
Angharad had suffered a cracked skull at the back of her head, a big wound on the front of her head, her lungs had collapsed, she had three crushed vertebrae in her spine, her pelvis had come off her spine, she suffered multiple fractures in her feet, and a knee ligament was ruptured.
As she was being prepared for surgery, she suffered a cardiac arrest and was revived by the hospital team. She spent nine months in hospital, during which time she underwent multiple surgeries.
One year on, and now 23, Angharad is still recovering. She still struggles to walk long distances without being in pain and is waiting on another operation. Remarkably the incident has significantly reduced the number of seizures she suffers every month, from around 20 to just two.
Reflecting on what happened that day, Angharad said: “I don’t remember it at all, I remember the day before and then 10 days later.
"I find it interesting knowing what happened, I’m not scared of it, it doesn’t upset me, I just think it’s amazing that I did survive it and that people helped me, I’m very lucky. With severe epilepsy I’ve learnt to deal with things very well."
Jo added: "Seeing Pete and Lisa, I don’t want to use this word loosely, but they were like angels walking along. Those guys came down despite the sea coming in, the extraordinary courage that they showed, and at no point did I get the sense they would leave us.
"Around 30 seconds after Pete was winched by the helicopter the rock was covered with water. I feel very humbled that they cared so much about us. If they didn’t come, we would have drowned without a doubt."
Following their incredible bravery, Pete and Lisa were presented with the Special Incident Award at the Air Ambulances UK awards ceremony at the Edgbaston Stadium, Birmingham, on 14th November 2022.