THE lives of Wiltshire residents will be put at risk if the county's air ambulance is moved to Bristol because it will not be able to fly at night.

This is the view of Adrian Wells, unit executive officer for the service, who says he is worried that lives may be lost as a third of medical emergencies are called in at night.

Last week it was revealed that the Wiltshire Air Ambulance may not be used in conjunction with Wiltshire Police as plans are considered for a new helicopter to be based near Bristol covering up to three counties.

At the moment Wiltshire Air Ambulance in conjunction with Wiltshire Police flies from 8.30am to 3.30am seven days a week, but that will not be the case if the service is moved to a Bristol base as operational restrictions' would be placed on the service.

"We deal with a lot of serious incidents at night that an air ambulance based at Bristol would not be able to deal with because they happen in hours of darkness," said Mr Wells.

"The situation gets more serious in winter when daylight hours are shorter and so we're looking at the helicopter being grounded from 4.30pm until daylight the next day."

Wiltshire Air Ambulance, which was set up in April 1990, is one of only two in the country that can operate 24 hours a day, the other being in Sussex.

The ambulance accounts for 25 per cent of emergency call outs whereas the police use it for 75 per cent of the time.

Wiltshire Police pays the running costs of the helicopter, which is £1.5m a year, while the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Appeal - funded entirely by donations from the public - needs to raise £350,000 a year.

"A third of our call-outs are at night," said Adrian, who has worked as a police observer on the air ambulance for 14 years.

"So I don't need to point out the implications there."

In the last three years the air ambulance has responded to 3,963 incidents in the county, has helped recover £275,000 of stolen property and has found 53 missing people.

It has carried 906 injured people and in most cases has reached stricken patients within eight minutes.

"It will be a sad day for the people of Wiltshire if this lifesaving facility is moved to Bristol," said Mr Wells.

"The partnership between the ambulance and police is a great one and is not only effective at dealing with incidents but is tremendously cost effective too compared with having two individual services.

"From a police point of view, the helicopter can find a missing person in an area in 20 minutes.

"It would take 400 officers on the ground a day to do exactly the same thing."