HAMPSHIRE’S vital air ambulance service will today launch a major extension to the life-saving role it has previously performed only during daylight hours.

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance (HIOWAA) has taken delivery of a new helicopter which has been fitted with the equipment needed to carry out mercy missions in the dark.

Medics can now be flown to the scene of car crashes and other emergencies until 2am, potentially saving more lives.

HIOWAA has joined forces with Thames Valley Air Air Ambulance (TVAA), which also has the ability to operate during the hours of darkness.

The two organisations will take it in turns to cover the whole of the South Central Ambulance Service area, including Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

The introduction of the new night-time service means an air ambulance will be available for an extra seven hours a day.

Both organisations have previously been able to fly at night only when going from one lit helipad to another, but their new equipment gives them the ability to land safely at the scene of night-time incidents, including those on motorways.

The newly expanded life-saving service will be launched today at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

HIOWAA’s chief executive Alex Lochrane said: “It will make a major difference to patient outcome, particularly during the winter when we are able to reach those early evening rush-hour incidents we would not previously have been able to reach."

He added: “Thanks to our unique partnership TVAA there is now a dedicated crew operational until 2am.

“Our doctor paramedic teams can be at the scene of an incident within minutes, ready to deliver an advanced level of critical care to the patient and give them the very best chance of survival.”

Mr Lochrane said HIOWAA had been expanding its role since it started operating in 2007.

He added: “Introducing night operations adds another dimension to our service, helping us save lives and provide emergency medical support where and when it’s most needed.”

HIOWAA is funded entirely by donations and says the generosity of its supporters has made it possible to introduce the new service.

“We would not have been able to take this important step forward without the on-going support we receive from the people, companies and organisations that support us,” said Mr Lochrane.