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Dispatch 19: Ready for Takeoff

Ferrying all the crew and our luggage to the Louis by helicopter takes several hours. Second Mate Dan Loghin made sure the crew change occurred in an orderly fashion. (Photo: Helen Gemmrich)
Helen Gemmrich, Benjamin Richaud, and Nicolas Sylvestre peer into the helicopter cockpit. (Photo: Isabela Le Bras)
Jacques Lefort opened the helicopter to give us a tour. Pictured with Francis Beaulieu. (Photo: Isabela Le Bras)

Helen Gemmrich

September 10,2021

Strapped to the deck with its rotor blades neatly folded away, the Louis’ bright red and white helicopter patiently waits for its next mission. The hangar’s tall ceilings and sparse walls amplify the wind rattling the two garage doors as Flight Engineer, Jacques Lefort walks us through this unique part of the ship’s operations.

Officially, the flight team consists of Jacques and Pilot Peer Klattenhoff, but their work would be impossible without the rest of the crew. From moving the helicopter in and out of the hangar to completing fuelling operations and the fire watch, a helicopter dispatch is always more than a two-person task. The team is well coordinated: the helicopter and its crew can be ready to go in 20 minutes, with an extra 10 minutes if they need to refuel. Getting into the flight suit takes the longest time out of all the preparations, Jacques joked.

The helicopter, a Bell 429 single pilot, twin-engine aircraft, is one of six Canadian Coast Guard helicopters in the maritime region. It can carry seven passengers plus the pilot and roughly 900 kilograms of cargo. With a cruising speed of 140 knots (260 kilometers per hour) and a range of 250 nautical miles (463 kilometers), the helicopter transports crew and cargo to and from the ship, conducts search and rescue operations and emergency medical evacuations (medivacs), and also helps with remote site construction projects and maintenance. The flight team also does ice reconnaissance, especially for barges travelling to remote communities. On our trip, other than ferrying all of us (and the outgoing crew in the reverse direction) to the Louis from the airport in Cambridge Bay, NU, the flight team also pulled off an emergency scientific equipment mission in the first week (see Dispatch 1: All Aboard!). We couldn’t have done it without them!

The Canadian Coast Guard owns the helicopter, but contracts the pilot and engineer duo from Transport Canada. When not at sea, Jacques and Peer also work with Parks Canada and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, flying out of the helicopter base in Shearwater, Nova Scotia.