Service - The 3 and 4
August 2006 are dates that
will be forever remembered
in the history of the GFS.
Over these two days,
the Hong Kong-based
operator rescued 91 people
in extremely difficult
conditions, which also put
the rescue teams at risk.
On 3 August 2006, at around ten in the
morning, a force 3 typhoon struck the
South China Sea, 170 nautical miles to
the south west of Hong Kong. At 10:18 am, the
crew of an AS332 L2 Super Puma readied
themselves for takeoff in the GFS command
and control center.
Their mission was to save
23 people on board a survival vessel, which
was adrift close to the eye of the typhoon.
Time was tight… and few airplanes could land
or take-off at Hong Kong International Airport
because of the awful weather conditions.
that did not stop the AS332 L2 Super Puma
from taking to the skies, although the flight
out to the vessel was extremely difficult due to
the 170 km/h winds, the rain and the very low
clouds, which reduced the visibility to almost
To ensure crew safety, the pilot therefore
flew in IFR(1) mode. The rescue vessel was
located on the radar but the visibility was so
poor that the pilot could barely make it out by
Nevertheless, the 23 people were
quickly hoisted to safety thanks to the exceptional
teamwork of the pilot and hoist operators.
With everybody safely on board, the
helicopter headed back to Hong Kong at
An Even More Dangerous Mission…
At 1:30 pm, the GFS picked up another
Mayday call: 68 people returning from an
oil platform were in grave danger. Captain
Michael Chan, the Head of Operations at
the GFS and an AS332 L2 Super Puma pilot,
described the rescue mission: “When I got
to the scene, I saw that the barge carrying
the 68 people was letting in water on all
sides and a MOC (Chinese Ministry of
Communications) rescue launch nearby.
The MOC rescue launch was trying to tow
the barge to the shore but the cable
snapped in the typhoon, leaving the barge
drifting on its own without power. We were
asked to hoist the people from the ship in distress to the MOC rescue launch but,
given the weather conditions, we decided
this was much too risky and time consuming.
We also knew that the fate of those
people was in our hands.
I decided to keep
hovering by the barge while my crew
member tried to open the cabin door, which
was blocked by a 72 knot wind. Subsequently
when one of the hoist operators
landed on the boat, he was in constant
danger of losing his balance and being
swept away by the 10 meter high waves.
The barge was pitching dangerously but
we managed to hoist up the people from
the ship two by two: the operation was hell
for the two hoist operators. When we had
23 people on board the helicopter, the maximum
load authorized for the Super Puma,
we should have turned back for Hong Kong.
But, I said to myself that we had to get the
maximum number of people on board
because there was no guarantee that
another helicopter would make it out there.
We therefore re-performed the load calculation
by assigning 60 kg – and not 77 kg –
to each person. This allowed us to hoist up
a few more people. With 32 passengers
on board, including the crew, I decided to
head back as there was no more room in
During the return flight, the wind
continued to gust at 200 km/h but we landed
safe and sound in Hong Kong after nearly
three hours of perilous mission. The Super
Puma once again proved its exceptional
capabilities during this operation: an ability
to shrug off all difficulties, unbeatable
range and performances in this situation,
and a vast cabin, which allowed us to transport
32 people in one go!”
The End Was Still Not in Sight…
Alongside this mission, at about 3 pm,
a second AS332 L2 Super Puma took off
to bring back the people who were still stuck
on the boat. However, because of the
encroaching night, only another 28 of them
could be brought back to dry land that day,
and the others had to wait for a third rotation
the next morning.