Helicopters Magazine

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A Day in the Life

The life of a helicopter pilot can be interesting to say the least and what follows is but a small example of the kind of experiences I, and many of my colleagues, have experienced on a daily basis.


October 12, 2012
By Fred Jones

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The life of a helicopter pilot can be interesting to say the least and what follows is but a small example of the kind of experiences I, and many of my colleagues, have experienced on a daily basis.

It was a day like most other days, except busier. An electrical storm off Lake Winnipeg early in the day had started a couple of new fires, so it meant a flurry of activity inserting some IA crews and some bucketing. It was a pretty full day and I had just about reached my eight-hour Manitoba Conservation daily flight time limit.

The machine was fuelled and put to bed by 16:00 hours, and I was walking from the Berens River fire base to the local hotel at about 16:30 local time, when I ran into the local RCMP Detachment Commander. He wanted to know how he could go about hiring the TAIGA Air Services Long Ranger I was operating. Apparently, a canoeist had been hit by lightning about 60 nautical miles southeast on the Bloodvein River. Fortunately, a group of nine female canoeists had alerted the RCMP on a satellite phone and provided GPS coordinates.

The weather was sound and Manitoba Conservation was good enough to release the machine for the operation. Other dedicated EMS and SAR resources were a little too far away to arrive before darkness to an unprepared landing area in the bush, so I said I would be happy to fly out there. Naturally, however, I could make “no promises” about landing at the scene, particularly if it was going to be time-consuming to find a suitable location in deteriorating daylight.

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I was asked to pick up a couple of RCMP officers in nearby Bloodvein, and take them with me to the scene. I flew down to the airport there and within a few minutes, the RCMP officers arrived with the GPS coordinates. Following a short safety briefing, we departed for the location of the canoeists. No one really knew what to expect either in terms of the patient’s condition or the landing area. The GPS coordinates, fortunately, were very accurate and when we arrived there were nine ladies on top of a monstrous rock outcrop. Much to my relief, they had had the presence of mind to locate a perfect landing area.

It took only a few minutes for the officers to help the injured canoeist to the helicopter and I departed with one of the RCMP officers for the 12-minute flight back to the Bloodvein Nursing Station. The injured canoeist received first aid and was later transferred using a seized-wing aircraft to Winnipeg. I returned to the scene for a second time, picked up the other RCMP officer and flew him back to Bloodvein, where I landed just before darkness on a cloudless evening and spent the night in RCMP-supplied accommodation – without bars for a change. I returned to the Berens River firebase the next morning.

The entire operation took roughly four hours and in almost every way, it was like every other helicopter operation – unpredictable loads in an unprepared landing area. The confined area where the canoeist was picked-up was better than most landing areas we land in every day on fires. In short, the operation was completely uneventful.

It has occurred to me more than once that in our industry, we’re used to dealing with such versatile machines in such completely unpredictable scenarios that we don’t recognize it ourselves when that special combination produces an extraordinary outcome. At the very least, the injured canoeist would have spent a very unpleasant night in the bush if there hadn’t been a helicopter nearby to take her out – and it could easily have been worse.

In the mainstream media we get plenty of press when something goes wrong or there’s an accident or an incident, or when there’s a complaint because of helicopter noise – but we don’t often take credit as an industry for the good work we do every day. I know events like this one occur every day in our industry – for operators everywhere.

I’d like to encourage all Canadian operators to share positive news stories with the media – both mainstream and editor Matt Nicholls at Helicopters magazine. If you’re uncomfortable writing a piece yourself, don’t worry – Matt or I will write the article for you. Sharing positive information about your organization is not simply “blowing your own horn” – it’s a positive depiction of a critical industry and savvy marketing strategy to boot. And let’s face it: you know the media are going to come looking for you when something goes bump. If it does, you’d better hope that you can rely on some of the goodwill you’ve built up in the community when it does.


Fred Jones is the president/CEO of the Helicopter Association of Canada and a regular contributor to Helicopters magazine.


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