Horizon Helicopters of Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory has added a new Airbus AS350-B3e Écureuil to its fleet. The European-made helicopter is certified for flights to altitudes greater than 23,000 feet.
Last year, mountain-climber Monique Richard of Quebec was rescued from the 18,000-foot level of the Yukon’s Mount Logan by Horizon using an older version of the AS350, whose service ceiling is close to 18,000 feet. Richard, who had successfully scaled Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak at 19,951 feet, called for help after she encountered difficulties during her descent.
“This is just going to give us as the pilots, and the Parks people, and the people who are rescued…more power at those altitudes, which can make it safer for everybody,” Horizon’s chief pilot and operations manager Cole Hodinski told CBC News.
Aerospatiale, a precursor of Airbus Helicopters, has a long history of designing and manufacturing helicopters capable of very-high-altitude flight. That reputation has carried forth into the Airbus Helicopters organization.
In 2005, French test pilot Didier Delsalle became the first (and up till now the only) person to land a helicopter on the summit of Mount Everest, making the world-record landing in an AS350-B3 Écureuil. Delsalle repeated the flight to the 29,029-foot peak the next day to prove that the first flight was not a fluke. Delsalle’s AS350-B3 was a standard version, with only unnecessary equipment, such as the rear passenger seats, removed to reduce the aircraft’s weight.
While Horizon isn’t the only helicopter company in the area that can offer high-altitude rescue services, it is now the only one that is capable of reaching the upper reaches of Mount Logan.
“This particular machine, compared to the one that landed on Everest, has more horsepower and a number of other [modifications] that help improve the performance at altitude,” said Hodinski.