Air male: Baby born 1,000ft up in helicopter

The rescue helicopter was sent out by Shetland coastguard
The rescue helicopter was sent out by Shetland coastguard
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A BABY boy was delivered by a helicopter winchman 1,000 feet in the air yesterday after his mother gave birth on her way to hospital in Shetland.

The drama began when the mother, named locally as Iona Williamson, went into labour on the northerly island of Unst around 4:30am.

A search-and-rescue helicopter was summoned after the doctor decided there was not enough time to wait for the morning ferry to take Ms Williamson and her partner, Luke Rees, to hospital in Lerwick.

However, once on board the helicopter, Ms Williamson’s labour progressed quickly, forcing Marcus Wigfull, a winchman paramedic, assisted by Friedie Manson, the winch operator, to step in to deliver the baby. The boy, weighing just over 7lbs, was born at 6:30am in the sky above the tiny outcrop of Lunna Holm.

Ten minutes later, the helicopter landed at the Gilbert Bain hospital in Lerwick where the baby, Ms Williamson’s third child, was admitted for medical checks.

Recalling his role as impromptu midwife, Mr Wigfull said: “I was in bed when the call came in at ten past five. It was to go to Unst for a routine medical evacuation, to pick up a young lady in the late stages of labour.

“As soon as we did the hand-over with the local doctor, it was very clear it wasn’t going to be quite so simple.

“It’s a 20-minute flight, but within three or four minutes of being airborne, I realised there was no way we were going to complete the journey without another passenger on board.

“There were all the signs, and the mother was letting me know, too. She was saying, ‘The baby is coming now’. The dad was there as well and we were there to reassure them.”

As part of a search-and-rescue helicopter crew, Mr Wigfull said he was trained to help deliver a baby, although he had never been called on to use his skills before. “To be honest, I wasn’t nervous. It all happened so quickly and my training just kicked in. It was a very straightforward birth. It happened very quickly, in just a couple of minutes,” he said.

“It was a very daunting experience for the parents. We were 1,000 feet up and moving at 150 miles per hour in the dark with all the noises of the helicopter. This was no midwifery suite with music and all the rest.

“But it went very smoothly, and I’m delighted that mother and baby are both well. The baby had a good cry in the aircraft.

“Both parents were very thankful. There was also relief because it was a scary moment for them.”

Mr Wigfull added: “Now I’ve had time to think about it, it was a great morning. After 20 years in search and rescue, this is the first time I’ve had to deliver a baby on my own.

“It’s a big moment and something I’ll never forget. It’s one the parents will never forget. The crew were laughing about what they put on the birth certificate under ‘place of birth’.”

Yesterday, Alex Dodge, watch manager at Shetland Coastguard, said: “This is the first time that a baby has been delivered on the Coastguard Search and Rescue Helicopter based at Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands.

“We would like to congratulate the mother and father on the birth of their son, who is ­reported to be doing well.”

Residents on Unst said the boy’s dramatic birth was “the talk of the island”.

Local care worker Doreen Craig, 60, said: “I heard the helicopter landing at the island’s little airstrip at 6am when most people were still in their beds.

“You wonder ‘what now?’ but this is a happy story and we gather mother and baby are both doing well.”