New Zealand operator Garden City Helicopters has sent an AS350 and a BK117 to Vanuatu to help with the ongoing humanitarian aid operation in the aftermath of the devastating Hurricane Pam, which hit the archipelago country on Saturday 14th. President Baldwin Lonsdale is quoted as saying the storm has wiped out all development of recent years, and while the official death toll stands at eight, that is expected to rise as so much infrastructure has been destroyed. Some outlying islands have not yet made contact. The storm is reported to have witnessed winds of 300km/h (186 mph, or 162 knots) and a barometric reading of 896 hPa, showing just how extreme conditions were experienced.
Garden City Helicopters already has a presence in the archipelago as the owner of Vanuatu Helicopters 2012 Ltd, operators of R44 YJ-VHR and R66 YJ-VHL. Both helicopters were in a cyclone-resistant hangar and survived well – and are already hard at work. Unfortunately, Chief Pilot Ben Clark lost his house and most of its contents when the roof was blown off. Meanwhile Operations Manager Andy Martin is flying in support of the Vanuatu Government to help identify the areas of greatest need.
Only a week earlier, the Vanuatu Helicopters team was celebrating winning at the Westpac Vanatu Tourism Awards for Excellence 2014.
Garden City Helicopters has had approval from the New Zealand government (which presumably means “agreed funding”) for AS350BA ZK-HUG and BK117 ZK-HGU and these are being freighted to Port Vila and pressed into service as soon as feasible.
Graham Stevens – HeliHub.com Australiasia correspondent
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