A 22-year-old woman sustained horrific injuries when she fell 100ft from a cliff path in Cornwall after an epileptic seizure.
Angharad Elliot had been out for a day at the beach with her family in October last year. It wasn’t until Angharad’s mum, Jo, spotted her in a rock pool below the cliff that paramedics were called.
She was badly injured by the fall and spent nine months in hospital following the incident.
Angharad had a cracked skull, a big wound on the front of her head, collapsed lungs, three crushed vertebrae in her spine, her pelvis coming off her spine, multiple fractures in her feet and a ruptured knee ligament.
Cornwall Air Ambulance deployed a helicopter but despite locating Angharad, the aircraft could not land due to steep cliffs on either side.
It had to land in a field high above the beach, and critical care paramedics Lisa Ball and Pete Storer then had to leave their heavy kits bags behind due to uneven terrain and hike down to the beach and scramble across rocks with just their vital drugs and equipment.
But within minutes of them arriving, the ravine where Angharad was lying became flooded with water, and although Lisa and Peter moved her a few metres away, that area soon flooded too.
The paramedics then moved the patient to a nearby ledge.
This remote location left the paramedics with no ability to communicate with the South Western Ambulance Service control room or the helicopter pilot. They could only contact the coastguard via radio but with no sign of the helicopter, waves began to crash over the ledge.
The crew then had to make a snap decision whether to stay with Angharad and her mum as the tide came in or to evacuate, knowing that leaving them would likely lead to their deaths.
The paramedics decided to remain despite the risk to themselves and pinned Angharad down using their bodyweight.
Lisa said: “We were sheltering behind rocks with waves crashing over us all. We were using all our strength to hold them in place, if we didn’t, they would have been washed into the sea.
“The conditions were getting worse, no one would have got into that water and come out alive. The power of the waves would have thrown us against the rocks.
“Pete and I looked at each other, we work together a lot, and we both knew what the other was thinking. We couldn’t leave them.”
Luckily, Angharad was eventually rescued by the Coastguard Search and Rescue helicopter, which winched her to safety, followed by Jo, Lisa and Pete.
Lisa then attended to the patient despite being hypothermic herself, monitoring Angharad’s vital signs and giving her oxygen.
But despite being rushed to Royal Cornwall Hospital, Angharad’s ordeal was not yet over as she then suffered a cardiac arrest while being prepared for surgery.
The fall and her severe injuries ultimately led Angharad to spend nine months in hospital, where she underwent multiple surgeries.
A year on, she still struggles to walk long distances without pain and is waiting on another operation, though it has significantly reduced the number of seizures she suffers every month, from around 20 to just two.
‘If they didn’t come, we would have drowned without a doubt’
Reflecting on her fall, Angharad said: “I don’t remember it at all, I remember the day before and then 10 days later.
“I find it interesting knowing what happened, I’m not scared of it, it doesn’t upset me, I just think it’s amazing that I did survive it and that people helped me, I’m very lucky.
“With severe epilepsy I’ve learnt to deal with things very well.”
Jo added: “Seeing Pete and Lisa, I don’t want to use this word loosely, but they were like angels walking along.
“Those guys came down despite the sea coming in, the extraordinary courage that they showed, and at no point did I get the sense they would leave us. Around 30 seconds after Pete was winched by the helicopter the rock was covered with water.
“I feel very humbled that they cared so much about us. If they didn’t come, we would have drowned without a doubt.”
The two paramedics, Lisa and Peter, have gone on to win the Special Incident Award at the 2022 Air Ambulances UK awards last Monday (14 November), at Edgbaston Stadium in Birmingham.