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Prince William Remembers the Trauma of Working as an Air Ambulance Pilot

"I wasn't in tears, but inside, I felt something had changed. I felt a sort of, a real tension inside of me."

black and white portrait of prince william
Apple

Prince William's experience as an air ambulance helicopter pilot has left an indelible mark on him.

In a special episode of Apple Fitness+'s Time to Walk series, during which the royal walked through Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, he recalled going through a period of mental health struggles after serving as an RAF Search and Rescue pilot. William served the East Anglian Air Ambulance from 2015 to 2017.

"The moment I started the helicopter training, I realized that it was better than anything. It was one of those things that I just instantly took to and thought, 'This is really cool.' I really enjoy it," he said, according to People.

Despite enjoying the work, William said there were still "difficult situations." He explained, "Seeing patients and families ripped apart on almost a daily basis, that routine, you just get into a habit of head down and get on with it."

One patient in particular greatly affected the Duke of Cambridge.

"Immediately it became clear that this young person was in serious difficulty, sadly been hit by a car," he said. "And of course there are some things in life you don't really want to see. And all we cared about at the time was fixing this boy. And the parents are very hysterical, as you can imagine, screaming, wailing, not knowing what to do, you know, and in, in real agony themselves. And that lives with you."

His team was ultimately able to stabilize the boy. But even so, William "went home that night pretty upset but not noticeably."

"I wasn't in tears," he said, "but inside, I felt something had changed. I felt a sort of, a real tension inside of me."

the queen and duke of edinburgh open new base of east anglian air ambulance at cambridge airport
Prince William walks across the helipad after piloting his air ambulance into land at the East Anglian Air Ambulance base at Cambridge Airport in 2016.
Max Mumby/IndigoGetty Images

William said he wasn't able to fully process those emotions until weeks after the event.

"It was like someone had put a key in a lock and opened it without me giving permission to do that. I felt like the whole world was dying," he said. "It's an extraordinary feeling. You just feel everyone's in pain, everyone's suffering. And that's not me. I've never felt that before. My personal life and everything was absolutely fine. I was happy at home and happy at work, but I kept looking at myself, going, 'Why am I feeling like this? Why do I feel so sad?' And I started to realize that, actually, you're taking home people's trauma, people's sadness, and it's affecting you."

Eventually, William began to open up to his coworkers about his mental health struggles.

"I was lucky enough that I had someone to talk to at work in the Air Ambulance because mental health where I was working was very important," he said. "Talking about those jobs definitely helped, sharing them with the team, and ultimately, in one case, meeting the family and the, the patient involved who made a recovery, albeit not a full recovery, but made a recovery."

He encouraged those listening to seek out help if they're struggling with a similar experience.

"You're not alone, and it's okay. It's about what you do next," he said. "It's about having that boldness and that openness and that strength to go, 'It's going to be a long journey. It's not going to be easy, but I'm going to get there.'"

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