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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 07:17 GMT
Second air ambulance takes off
Air ambulance
The air ambulance costs 70,000 a month to operate
A second air ambulance service for the north-east of England has been launched.

A spectacular ceremony was held on the banks of the River Tyne in Gateshead to celebrate the expansion of the Great North Air Ambulance service.

A second helicopter is being brought in to support the existing aircraft, which has been serving the area since 1991.

The new helicopter will get an RAF escort up the Tyne to Gateshead quayside.

The new aircraft will be based at Blyth in Northumberland, while the older will be switched to Teesside.

Both will now operated seven days a week and bring 80% of the region's population within reach of air ambulance assistance.

The two aircraft will be blessed by the Bishop of Durham at Baltic Square in Gateshead, after fireworks and a fly-past by two RAF Sea King helicopters to launch the new service.

'We need support'

Graham Pickering, of Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), said its long-term survival depended on the generosity of local people and donations from the business community.

He said: "It will cost us about 70,000 a month to keep the service up and running.

"We need a lot of money to run this aircraft continually and in that respect, we need the support of local people but, more importantly, from regional businesses.

"Not only can airborne paramedics often reach a severely injured person more quickly than a road ambulance and begin vital treatment as soon as possible, but the helicopter can also transport the patient directly to a dedicated treatment centre in minutes.

"The average flight time for patients flown from the scene of an emergency to the nearest hospital is only eight minutes"

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