Islanders feel they have been left to their fate

Tuesday’s crash possibly closes the door on a period when helicopters and crew flew on a wing and a prayer, and, as has been demonstrated, at the risk of their lives, to collect patients who could not be treated by the islands’ rudimentary healthcare facilities. Island mayors condemned these shortages to Kathimerini, speaking of non-existent diagnostic machines, an inability to carry out medical tasks given the lack of even the most basic equipment and often a lack of specialists on many Aegean islands. Two days after the crash off Icaria, five municipal leaders expressed their sorrow at the loss of the EKAB helicopter, dwelling on the heroism of the crew and their own sense of insecurity and uncertainty after the suspension of all mercy flights. «We feel great sadness because we islanders feel very bound to EKAB personnel. Icaria is in a state of mourning and great uncertainty, especially rural doctors, who cannot deal with even the simplest case in the absence of instruments,» Giorgos Kritikos, the sub-prefect of Icaria, told the newspaper. On Anafi, the site of last year’s helicopter crash, memories are still raw. «It’s an absolute disaster. For us, the flights were a matter of life and death. They weren’t allowed to land at the island’s heliport anyway, but how is it possible for a rural doctor with no equipment to take over?» asked the municipal head of the Anafi community, Iakovos Roussos. The crew of the Agusta were personally known to plenty of inhabitants of the Cycladic island of Amorgos. «They had flown fellow-islanders to Athens in terrible weather. The crew often told us that they were stretching the limits. These people were heroes,» Mayor of Amorgos Nikos Fostieris said. «The helicopters gave us hope. Unfortunately, the island’s clinics are unable to offer more than a simple diagnosis by a rural doctor. We are dependent on transport by air and sea. Our heliport, although it has nighttime lighting, has neither a generator nor ground-air communications, which are essential to ensure flight safety.» Sikinos residents also feel abandoned. «After such an event, the inadequacy of helicopter links was confirmed and our insecurity grew. There are no lifeboats to transfer passengers on any of the islands, and a doctor doing his term in the country cannot meet our needs,» said Giorgos Manalis, president of the community of Sikinos. Fortunately, emergency cases on the Dodecanese island of Symi can be transferred by municipal vessels, so that air transport is not vital. «We have our own craft, which take patients to Rhodes. The heliport is rarely used,» Eleftherios Papakalodoukas, mayor of Symi, said.