Eurocopter aircraft played a leading role in the rescue operations that took
place in China following the earthquake that struck Sichuan Province in May.
Of the more than 20 civil helicopters that were mustered for the rescue work, about 15 were made available by Eurocopter customers in China. The army coordinated the emergency response, and the helicopter missions were flown from Guanghan airport, approximately 100 kilometers to the north of Chengdu. The helicopter was used to bring aid and assistance, within a 100 km radius, to many towns in the mountains at an average altitude of 6,000 feet. The first task was to bring in supplies and repatriate the critically injured.
Citic Offshore Helicopter Co. Ltd. (COHC), the biggest helicopter operator in China whose aircraft carry out a wide variety of missions, also played an active role in the rescue work. COHC sent 12 helicopters (mainly AS332 L1 Super Pumas, AS365 Dauphins and EC155s) with crews to the disaster zone. In total, from May 16 to June 1, these helicopters made 92 sorties totaling more than 94 flight hours. The aircraft dropped 42 metric tons of food, water and rescue equipment, evacuated more than 360 sick and injured people, and transported 300 rescue workers and police officers.
At the same time, COHC continued its transport missions for the oil & gas sector, and even performed an emergency evacuation from an oil platform to Dongfang, in the Hainan Province. A special standby plan had been set up, guaranteeing the oil companies any type of intervention that might be required.
Furthermore, on May 23, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) lent an AS332 L2 Super Puma belonging to the Government Flying Service (GFS) to assist with the rescue operations and to help carry supplies.
This aircraft and an EC225 from the Chinese Ministry of Transport (see inset) performed many helihoisting operations in mountainous areas that are only accessible by helicopter. These missions were particularly complex and perilous because of the poor weather conditions and the many power lines crisscrossing the very deep and narrow valleys.
The Eurocopter teams in both China and Europe lent their full support to the rescue operations, sending donations and spare parts, and contributing technical support and the services of a pilot.
This dramatic event reminded both the Chinese authorities and public of the extremely important role that helicopters play when dealing with this type of situation.