Page last updated at 23:06 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

Mission to save injured soldiers

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On board the plane with the injured soldiers


By Scott Ellis, BBC West

It took just over 24 hours on an RAF mercy mission to fly home British soldiers critically injured in Afghanistan.

Military doctors and nurses based at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire are keeping up a round-the-clock rescue mission for soldiers seriously injured on the front line in Afghanistan.

The BBC has had exclusive access to one of their recent flights to the British base in the Helmand Province - home of some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan.

The team is part of a flying hospital which can get the wounded back home in just 24 hours.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 0100 GMT

A technical hitch on the C 17 Globemaster cargo plane means the flight from RAF Brize Norton is slow to get away.

A six-strong team of RAF doctors, nurses and technicians, have set up their makeshift intensive care unit in the back of the giant transporter plane.

The aluminium floor of the aircraft is cold, so they make me a bed using a battlefield stretcher.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 0800 GMT

A few hours of sleep is interrupted for a landing at a military base in Qatar, where it is time for fresh pilots and more fuel.

Cockpit C 17 cargo plane
The pilots fly to Qatar first to refuel and change shifts

With the four jet engines off we can actually talk, so I learn more about the mission.

A Royal Marine has been seriously injured by an improvised explosive device.

He has lost his left foot, and has serious injuries to a hand and his face and needs to be back in the UK as soon as possible for surgery.

Another soldier has a severe injury to his right leg after a road crash.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 1045 GMT

We take off from Qatar with the replacement pilots.

They tell me emergency evacuation flights from Afghanistan come out of the blue every two weeks or so, and the plane is laid on especially for the mission.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 1330 GMT

The landing into the British base at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province is always risky.

The pilots throw the plane left and right in the dark - just in case we are in the insurgents' sights.

In the back, the medical team is ready to start work.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 1520 GMT

The injured are on board on stretchers mounted four feet off the ground and we take off from Camp Bastion.

Injured soldier on board RAF plane
Soldiers receive treatment in the on board intensive care unit

The doctors and nurses are hard at work around them in the dark.

The Royal Marine is sedated, his head completely bandaged.

A nurse tells me that patients are sometimes in a coma for weeks, sedated in Afghanistan and then brought round at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

They keep a diary for the patients - to help the soldiers piece their lives back together.

THURSDAY 6 NOVEMBER 2200 GMT

The soldier injured in a road accident is in trouble.

His injured right leg is going white, the skin waxy and cold to touch, a sign of poor blood circulation.

The medics decide they cannot afford to wait to get to the UK.

The pilots divert to a US military base in Germany - where the soldier gets immediate surgery.

FRIDAY 7 NOVEMBER 0200 GMT

We land at East Midlands Airport where a waiting NHS ambulance takes the injured Royal Marine and his RAF carers straight to a military wing at Selly Oak Hospital.

We have done nearly 8,000 miles of flying in just over 24 hours.

But for all - it is mission accomplished.

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