Obituary: Phil Green, pilot and radio technician

Phil Green: Former army pilot who pioneered the helicopter air ambulance service in Scotland
Phil Green: Former army pilot who pioneered the helicopter air ambulance service in Scotland
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Born: 19 December, 1948, in Cardiff. Died: 11 February, 2014, in Inverness, aged 65

When Phil Green spotted an advert for army pilots it was the catalyst for a career that would see him take on a pioneering role in Scotland’s helicopter air ambulance service.

Originally a radio technician with the Royal Signals, he went on to fly for the Army Air Corps before leaving the armed forces for the North Sea, where he ferried crews back and forth from oil platforms and transported keepers and their supplies to lighthouses around the coast.

But when the opportunity arose to pilot the country’s first helicopter air ambulance it proved irresistible and over the next two decades he completed more than 2,000 mercy missions, skillfully manoeuvring his aircraft into the tightest of spaces to help save the lives of patients from infants to accident victims.

One of his most memorable missions was the birth of a baby boy on a remote Highland mountainside, when he had to land the helicopter alongside a loch as the youngster made his entrance ten weeks prematurely. Despite the complications of a breech birth and having the cord wrapped around his neck, the baby survived, having been resuscitated all the way by paramedics, as Captain Green battled worsening weather to reach the hospital in Inverness.

Other rescues included those of a farmer impaled on a fence post and so many road crash victims that any family trip to the north of Scotland was inevitably accompanied by a series of “I’ve landed here” observations as they passed the locations of accidents he had attended.

Born and raised in the Welsh capital, the son of a fireman and a local councillor, he left Cardiff High School at 15 to join the army, signing up with the Royal Signals in 1964. He trained at the Army Apprentices College in Harrogate, qualifying as a radio technician with his first posting to Cyprus where, within a week, he had met his future wife Cathy.

The couple married at Ladybank Church in Fife and, in 1973, after several years’ service in the UK, he noticed the army was advertising for pilots.

He successfully applied and qualified as a pilot in the Army Air Corps the following year, before serving in various locations including Northern Ireland and Germany. However, after the birth of his first son in 1978, he decided to leave the army and return to the UK.

The move marked the start of his career with North Scottish Helicopters, subsequently Bond Helicopters, where for the first year he provided a service for North Sea platforms, based offshore with a helicopter for some of the time. By 1980 he was working on the Northern Lighthouse Board contract and nine years later got the chance to become involved in the helicopter ambulance service. He immediately knew it was a role he wanted and for which was delighted to be selected.

The service was initially based in Dundee for six months and its first flight was a routine hospital transfer.

Very soon it was involved in a wide range of missions, including the airlift of a toddler savaged by a dog, before transferring permanently to Inverness in early 1990.

At the start, Green was the sole pilot and the job, based at Raigmore Hospital, only covered weekdays with no evening or weekend flying. But even before the service had moved north for an initial trial it had proved its worth, saving two women with spinal injuries from long and gruelling road ambulance trips across the remote Highlands – just because it had happened to have been in the area when they needed its help. In time, the crucial service was expanded to offer 24-hour cover, seven days a week, with a team of pilots and a permanent base established at Inverness Airport.

Meanwhile, he gained an enviable reputation for being able to put his machine down in the smallest and most challenging of spaces and was very much aware that he was fulfilling a vital service in a rural area where a number of patients would not survive the traditional road journey. That view was endorsed by several grateful passengers who thanked him for his skills, acknowledging that they owed their lives to the air ambulance.

Green, who remained with the service until retiring from flying single-pilot helicopters in 2008, also shared his extensive experience of helicopter ambulance transfers by helping to establish the Essex air ambulance and becoming involved in the early days of the Cornwall air ambulance. He concluded his career with a return to the North Sea, flying Super Puma helicopters for Bond until 2012.

Around the millennium he had also taken the opportunity to return to flying with the army, supporting the regular force as a member of the Territorials, and had enjoyed piloting army helicopters again, travelling all over the UK and into Europe from their base in Leuchars.

He was also passionate about cars and motorsport, loved getting out into the hills on foot and was a keen walker, completing Munros all over Scotland, as well as spending time in the Lake District. He helped out at his local Scout troop in Croy, tutoring boys for their planespotters’ badge and, ever practical, he and his wife built their own home, where his myriad DIY skills encompassed teaching himself how to do all the plumbing.

His is survived by his wife Cathy and their sons Justin and Chris.