Choppers need cleaning but are unaffected by volcano debris

A coastguard helicopter has flown through the volcanic ash cloud to perform a dramatic rescue from the Shetland Islands.

The helicopter crew decided to fly through the growing plume despite air traffic controllers grounding thousands of planes across Europe.

“There was grey mist everywhere and it had a very eggy smell,” said a spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

“After discussions with ambulance control we realised that this was a life or death situation with a casualty in a very serious condition, and that reverting to bringing the casualty to hospital via the ferry could mean that medical attention was not received in time,” said Martin Sykes, watch manager for the Shetland Coastguard.

“The helicopter crew made the difficult decision to fly through the clouds of ash, mist, and rain in a bid to save the woman who is now receiving treatment in hospital.”

Upon landing the helicopter was stripped back and given a chemical clean to remove any debris left from the sulphurous cloud.

As dust continued to spew from the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, airlines were last night preparing to ground flights for at least four more days.

Search and rescue helicopters are still expected to attend emergency calls, as the Sea King helicopters are used to flying at relatively low altitudes and are equipped with sand filters over the engine’s air intake.