The challenges of climbing in the Himalayas are legendary. So are the challenges of flying there, yet many a climber owes thanks to the H125 and its pilots.
“Our pilots have to take precautions,” says Suman Pandey, CEO of Fishtail Air. “There are many things they need to be careful of.”
Flying in the Himalayan mountains is no picnic, yet the pilots and helicopters that carry out thousands of mountain rescues annually play an essential role there. Every year, people come to Nepal to experience one of Earth’s most extreme environments. Mount Everest, at 29,029 feet (8,848 m), draws high-altitude climbers and trekkers. With no road transportation to Lukla’s Tenzing-Hillary Airport – the staging point for Everest expeditions – air transport is the only way travellers can make the trip from Kathmandu — or be evacuated back. Flights are a technical feat, as the majority of rescues are at altitudes from 12,000 to 17,000 feet. Many more take place from Everest’s Base Camp 2, at 21,000 feet (6,400 m).
Challenges to man and machine
“Our pilots have to be careful about altitude, so they go oxygen-equipped before taking off,” says Pandey. “They have to be careful of the wind. When there is snow on the ground, there are problems with light reflections. They have to be careful at the landing area, and the hardness of the ground.”
The pilots’ physical burdens are matched by those placed on the aircraft. To perform at such a high-density altitude, the helicopters can’t be too heavy, so they take off from Kathmandu with marginal fuel and refuel on their return journey. Engines are kept running during rescues. Takeoffs are done into a headwind to help with lift, since many landing spots are in a bowl in the mountainside, surrounded by peaks.
THE H125 IS THE BEST MACHINE THAT I’VE FLOWN IN MY 14 YEARS AS A PILOT.
Shashwot Dulal, captain with Air Dynasty.
Article: Heather Couthaud – Photos: Fishtail Air and Air Dynasty. Article adapted from Rotor magazine #112.