Air ambulance pilot flew more than two million miles in 29 years of missions

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  • Rory MacDonald
    Canadian mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter
Air ambulance pilot Rory Macdonald (Scottish Ambulance Service)
Air ambulance pilot Rory Macdonald (Scottish Ambulance Service)

An air ambulance pilot has spoken about his narrow escapes and life saving flights over almost three decades after he retired from service.

Rory Macdonald, 61, who spent 29 years flying in all weathers across the length and breadth of Scotland with the Scottish Ambulance Service spoke of the great respect he had for the people he transported.

He said: “Some of these people have really bad medical problems and we see stoicism and cheerful behaviour, which is remarkable.

It is a great honour to have seen so many people with such bad problems who have this amazing spirit

Air Ambulance pilot Rory Macdonald

“You will see people with terminal cancer and debilitating illnesses who manage to show such a cheerful face, it is quite amazing seeing these people and the respect I have for them is beyond words.

“It is a great honour to have seen so many people with such bad problems who have this amazing spirit.

“Many people in other jobs will barely experience this.”

He joked about the flight which could have stopped his career before it started.

He said: “The instructor Sandy wanted me to do a fully developed stall in landing configuration, with wheels down and flaps fully down.

“I was out of my comfort zone.”

Mr Macdonald said he performed the stall and recovered it, but on starting to lift the undercarriage it would not come up.

He added: “As we were trying to work out what was happening, we started to smell something unpleasant, I looked back and saw a wall of smoke advancing down the cabin towards us.

“It was from the electric motors on the undercarriage burning out due to being jammed.

“This still rates as one of the scariest moments of my life.”

The cabin was depressurised to let the smoke out, the pair went onto oxygen masks and, with the smoke clear, prepared themselves for an emergency landing.

Eventually, when they touched down at RAF St Mawgan, there was a “screech of aluminium on asphalt and we skidded along training white smoke”, said Mr Macdonald.

The experience did not put him off and in 1992 Mr Macdonald started flying a Beechcraft Kingair 200 twin engined aircraft for Bond Helicopters which had a contract with the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Many of Mr Macdonald’s flights featured very sick or injured people, and he recalled one night time flight from Shetland

Mr Macdonald said: “I had a Shetland middle of the night job.

“There had been a road accident and a bunch of teenagers in a car had a bad smash, one was killed, one had a head injury and broken bones too.

“We went up and took him and his mother down to Aberdeen.

“It was quite soon after I’d met my wife to be, Felicity and her father was in hospital.

“We were visiting him and it turned out this boy was in the next room.

“Felicity’s mum had been going round talking to everyone and she said there’s this boy who has been flown down on the air ambulance the other day and I said that’s probably the lad I brought down.

To see that change from someone really at death's door to fully up and running again and brain working was a really satisfying thing

Air Ambulance pilot Rory Macdonald

“Two or three days later I saw him in hospital sitting up with his arm in a sling and had been well patched up, fully conscious and he was being a typical teenager and seriously taking the piss out of his mum.

“To see that change from someone really at death’s door to fully up and running again and brain working was a really satisfying thing.”

In retirement, Mr Macdonald’s life will change gear as he joins his wife running her village shop, Macdonald’s of Alford, which opened in 2019 and was named Scottish Small Business of the year in 2020.

Mr Macdonald said: “I will be trying to learn a bit more about certain elements of food production.

“Another thing that I really want to do is, maybe two to three times a year, take the campervan and go on ferries to islands to which I flew to bring patients off to the mainland.

“I want to see some of the communities that I have helped in flying the air ambulance.”

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