A HOSPITAL walkway was ruined and three cars were damaged by the downdraught from an RAF helicopter flying low over the site.

The Merlin helicopter did the damage on a training exercise at Colchester General Hospital yesterday lunchtime.

It is thought the pilot used a different flight path from the usual air ambulance route.

The force of air from the chopper’s rotors damaged support poles holding up a covered walkway linking Gainsborough Ward with the main hospital building so badly it had to be taken down.

Cars in the car park – including a police vehicle – suffered broken windscreens. Witnesses inside the hospital described hearing the loud roar of the three-engined, 24-seater helicopter, on an exercise from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, as it flew over the building.

A spokesman for Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust said: “An RAF helicopter inadvertently caused some damage to buildings and several cars as it attempted to land at the hospital.

“As the helicopter approached the helipad, its down-draught badly damaged a pedestrian tunnel linking the main building with Gainsborough Wing.

“The down-draught also damaged at least three cars, including a police vehicle.

“The helicopter subsequently did not land and flew off to continue on its training exercise.

“Helicopters, usually from the air ambulance service, land regularly here with patients for treatment at the emergency department. On some occasions, RAF helicopters bring casualties in from sea rescues.

“We understand from the RAF an investigation has been launched into the incident.”

An RAF spokesman said: “The RAF can confirm a Merlin helicopter from 78 Squadron was conducting a scheduled, pre-approved landing at the Colchester Hospital landing site during a sortie as part of their pre-deployment training to Afghanistan.

“However, on the approach, the crew assessed the landing site as unsuitable because a large amount of loose material was lifted by the downwash and the planned landing was aborted.

“Any inconvenience caused to the hospital or local residents is regretted. Investigations are under way.”