RAF spearheads Sarajevo rescue: British medical teams fly out in Hercules to bring back 20 victims

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THE AIRLIFT of Sarajevo's wounded began yesterday when an RAF medical team flew to Italy to start the evacuation of 20 casualties.

Seventeen names - 15 adults and two children - were given to the British authorities by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A further three are likely to be added to the list today. Except for one boy with heart problems, all are war wounded.

Moving the injured from Sarajevo will start as soon as they and their relatives have been assembled at the airport, which will not be until Sunday at the earliest. Similar arrangements are being made by the Swedish and Irish governments, which are to take 16 and five victims respectively.

Members of the RAF's medical team will join a routine freight flight into Sarajevo early today to plan for the evacuation before a specially equipped Hercules, with space for 40 stretchers, is sent from Ancona, Italy.

A civilian medical team from Britain will meet the Hercules when it returns to Ancona with the wounded. The 12 doctors and 17 nurses, led by Tony Redwood, accident and emergency consultant at North Staffordshire Hospital, will assist in transporting the injured to Britain in a chartered Russian hospital plane.

John Major, whose intervention was instrumental in the evacuation of five-year-old Irma Hadzimuratovic, indicated that Britain could accept more victims. 'There will be other people who are wounded in future. We are seeking to ensure there are better arrangements for dealing with this problem in future and trying to make arrangements over the number of countries which would be prepared and able to accept victims.'

Wing Commander Andy Mitchell, a consultant paediatrician and member of the RAF team, said before he left Britain that the crew were well prepared. 'There is always a fear of the unknown but we're grateful to be given this chance to help. We're simply scratching the surface of the medical problem over there.'

A large number of hospitals have offered beds and the Department of Health said it would have no difficulty in finding suitable accommodation in specialist hospital units.

Irma Hadzimuratovic could be on the critical list for days.

Dr Kathy Wilkinson, consultant in intensive care, said changes in her condition would be slow. The girl, who suffered spinal, abdominal and head wounds in a mortar attack which killed her mother, remains 'critical but stable' at the Hospital for Sick Children in Great Ormond Street, central London.

Dr Wilkinson said: 'Irma's meningitis has responded to current treatment, but we are now dealing with the residual central nervous system problems . . . . It may take some time for us to be sure of the severity of the problems.'

(Photograph omitted)