A WOMAN so afraid of flying she could not get on an air ambulance with her son has qualified to fly on helicopters to North Sea oil rigs.
Caroline Tait was devastated six years ago when her 13-year-old son had an asthma attack and her fear of flying meant she could not accompany him to hospital.
The devastating experience forced the 40-year-old from Levenwick, Shetland, to face her fears.
And after months of therapy and intensive training, she has been passed for one of the most nerve-shredding passenger journeys in the world.
The mother-of-two wants to work on a rig, meaning she will have to make a monthly return trip by chopper hundreds of miles into the North Sea.
Caroline was once so frightened of flying she could not even watch aircraft on TV.
And she was left “guilt-ridden” when her son, Lewis, suffered a serious asthma attack and had to be flown to the mainland without her. She took a 12-hour ferry trip and drove to hospital.
Her fear of flying started more than a decade ago when she left the island without her children for the first time since they were born.
The primary school head cook said: “When TV adverts for travel companies were on I had to look away. I couldn’t even watch them.
“I hadn’t flown out of Shetland for 10 years,” she said.
She added: “My eldest son has a very bad asthma attack. I just couldn’t go. I was guilt ridden. My son was very poorly but I couldn’t go with him.
“I thought the nurses must have thought I was a terrible parent. Still to this day it kills me to think I didn’t go with him.”
Taking advice from friends Caroline finally decided to get help from local motivational coach Diane Taylor.
“One night I decided just to email and that was it. I saw Diane three times in total.”
She continued: “There was a variety of techniques. The deep breathing technique worked for me. Also getting management over your fear. Getting your mind off the fear and onto something that makes you calm.”
Talking about getting on the tiny Shetland plane which holds just 30 people for the first time in a decade Caroline said: “I just found my seat and sat down.
“I was scared, it was the first time I’d done that for 10 years.
“I just thought what was all the fuss about? It was really fantastic. When I landed it was amazing.”
Now Caroline has just qualified to fly on helicopters to offshore rig after successfully completing a terrifying course which includes a simulated underwater crash.
“There is a simulator in a swimming pool,” she explained. “They sink it and rotate it and turn it upside down.
“You have to get out holding your breath and using breathing apparatus.
“I can hardly believe I did it.
“I told nobody I was going and when I passed and phoned home they were absolutely gobsmacked.”
She added: “The job I would really like is a heli deck officer, preparing for the landing and takeoff.”
Anyone working offshore has to complete intensive training in case of helicopter emergencies at sea.
Although huge effort has gone into making North Sea chopper flights as safe as possible, there have been tragedies.
Despite that, Caroline’s husband, 46-year-old house builder John Tait, said getting over her fear has made a “huge difference” to their lives.
Talking about the day their son was flown away on an air ambulance he said: “I went because she just physically couldn’t go on the airplane.
“I think she did feel helpless, she just was unable to help and felt she should have been there.”
He said he “couldn’t believe it” when she announced she wanted to work offshore.
“It’s opened up her options,” he added.