Thursday, April 11, 2013

Good, Bad and Ugly on helicopters

April 11, 2013 "The Good, the bad and ugly on helicopters" Dang.... woken up by
a fly by helicopter over
head at 6:45 this morning. The thing was it didn't appear to be up here for a rescue as it never landed, I listened and the sound just rattled off into the distance. It's becoming a bit concern here with regards to there not being any ontrolled airspace, something that will need addressed at our operators meeting.  A bit unnerving considering all that's between me that machine is a piece of nylon. 

The good is the ability to quickly evacuate someone by helicopter to Kathmandu compared to the way it used to be done. There is more education on mountain sickness today but there is also the option of helicopters which may be taken for granted, it's only an option if the weather permits and that should be taken into serious consideration when playing in the mountains. If weather fails you'll have to be prepared to do it the old way. The quiet way. 

Before helicopters a climber or trekker with injury or AMS would be walked out, and in the night if it was life-threatening by a porter. The patient would be stuffed into a basket and carried on the porters back suspended by a trump line (woven sash) around his forehead. It would take a
couple porters switching off and on for the entire journey till you could be taken out further by a very large- tank like - M-17 Russian Military Helicopter, these could be accessed in Lukla. Later an airstrip was built in Syangboche, above Namche Bazaar. Airstrips up here at these altitudes need to have a drop off to allow the crafts blades to catch wind on descent because of the thin air. That was a bit of a screamer as a passenger.

  1964: Tenzing-Hilary Airport opened in Lukla for fixed wings. It was a dirt airstrip up until 2004 when it was paved. Only small fixed wing and helicopters can land here.

1997: A helicopter crashed at EBC, however, no one was killed. The pilot was Colonel Madan, who had piloted the world’s highest helicopter rescue a year earlier. In 1996 he had flown above the icefall to rescue American Beck Weathers, famed by the book "Into Thin Air". Madan said of the 1997 crash that he had just lost complete control of the helicopter and this would have to do with the thin air.

2003: A team of 9 climbers were looking for a quick way out after their Everest climb and hailed a Russian Helicopter to camp. It got just a short distance from camp and fell, killing two of the nine passengers.

2005: Another crash! MI-17...No one hurt, video link below: There was a brief quiet time here after these incidents up until the new high tech helicopter AS350 B3 owned by Fishtail Air made it's high altitude test flight to the summit of Everest. This was when everything changed here. The Russian helicopters weren't working out here so the new technology was impressive, or so we thought.

2010: Fishtail Helicopter crashes on a rescue mission on Ama Dablam (near Everest) the pilot and technician were returning to collect the last climber when they crashed killing both of them. 

YouTube Link: Everest Base Camp Crash  I like how the pilot just walks off the craft like it was all planned and the soothing music. Lucky for him.  These helicopters became the way to transport groups to Lukla for a few years. We used them often ourselves. We could move all our climbers, trekkers and gear in one haul. Those were the days. 

Group with gear piled in the middle 1996

The new high altitude AS350 B3

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