Sunday, March 18, 2007

More Slides / A New Record

Those of you who visit this blog on a semi regular basis know what a flight nut I have become. It's all about the flight hours. How much time can be spent aloft lookin' for trouble, shooting from the sky events unfolding on the ground below. Most flight weeks will have one or possibly 2 events that warrant more than average flight times. Forest fires in the summer, ferries crashing into marinas, searches, the list goes on, but things like these are what we love to do from the air. A News Gathering Helicopter is well suited for big events.

Monday's flooding and mudslides would be followed by the news that a series of slides up into the Fraser Canyon had cut off the town of Lytton. It was decided to mount a mission to Lytton, land, get some clips and head back. We would have to stop in Hope for fuel and then continue up into the canyon. Weather would be a factor as was weight and fuel. During the winter months the Lytton airstrip did not have fueling available. The winds in the canyon are tricky. You have narrow mountain passes with some squirley down-draughts and before you know it you are either turning around and headed back to Hope empty handed. The flight up to Lytton with the winds only gave us a few minutes of shooting time over the target area, then we would have to head back.

When we finally arrived and came upon a side that was just to the east of the town, our fuel had indeed become a factor. Kink had been busy with the desk arranging to speak with someone on the ground. That was in place. I grabbed several shots from the air of a gaping hole and a river of water over the main highway. It looked like a building was in peril of being washed or sliding away. I think we did maybe four orbits over this slide. I got what we needed and headed to the landing strip to collect material on the ground.

It wasn't two minutes after we had touched down when one of the towns folk had come to meet us. This fellow driving a small pick up truck introduced himself and offered to drive us into town. There was not enough room in the little Ford for both Kink and I. It would be just me and my ENG kit taking him up on his offer.

The day was fading fast and I would have to do this interview very quickly and get back so we could get ourselves back to the lower mainland to feed before the top of the show.
There was perhaps more of a sense of urgency as another charter helicopter in the area had two crews for our competitors. The machine they were in was a faster and more powerful machine. So the race was on.

One of the advantages of our dedicated machine is our ability to edit while in flight. I used the trip back to Hope to pick our clips. Kink wrote while we fueled in Hope. The other caught up to us just as we finished refueling. Time was really becoming a big factor for all of us. It was just past four. I was able to have Kink voice on the ground and then I cut like the wind. It would be our second day in a row that time was tight and that we cut in the air.

I figured that that might be it as far as flight hours go for the week, but a second mission to Lytton was a go for Wednesday. This time we were sending our SAT truck and a ground crew. The weather was much more favorable for us and we would be able to spend more time shooting other slide further east of the town.

A frame grab from Chopper 9's FLIR camera showing one of the slide and washout areas along highway 1 to the North east of Lytton. You can get an idea just how much material will be needed to get this stretch back into service.

A closeup of the main CP Rail line suspended over the hole that one was the rail bed.

A wider shot of the highway gives you an idea just how big a fix is going to be needed

The damage was substantial. There were three slides and washouts that took large chunks of highway out. From the air you could clearly see railway suspended in the air over the washout. It will likely take weeks before the highway will be reopened to traffic. I shot the crap out of it and again Kink and I cut a piece on the way back to Vancouver.

Now here it was the middle of the week, and I had flown something like 17 hours. It truly made up for the week of the "Wilson Controller".
Thursday and Friday were much more routine. Flying the shows and a quick mission to Texada Island.
The I totaled the week up. The previous week total record had been shared by my colleagues Pete and Gary. They had each logged a week of 18 point something. Now a new benchmark was set and it was 22.8 hours for the week. God no wonder I felt so fatigued.
Yes indeed a good week, perhaps the best week ever.

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