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Monday, June 2, 2014

Himalayan Rescue Crew Receives AHS Intl Award

Source: AHS International

AHS International has given its Capt. William J. Kossler USCG Award to the Uttarakhand Disaster Relief Helicopter Operators. The award was presented during the AHS International 70th Annual Grand Awards Banquet on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. The awardee selection had been previously announced.

The pilots and crews were recognized for their efforts delivering lifesaving supplies and evacuating those in need due to flooding and landslides in June 2013 in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand in the Himalayas. A heavy monsoon cloudburst caused the melting of the Chorabari Glacier and the eruption of the Mandakini River, trapping more than 100,000 villagers and pilgrims. With roads and bridges wiped out, many could only be rescued by helicopter, but there are relatively few in India. From across the country, civilian helicopter operators converged on the area, aiding military pilots and crews who were conducting rescue operations as part of Operation Surya Hope (Indian Army) and Operation Rahat (Indian Air Force). Every pilot involved in the mission operated their machines to their limits by landing and picking up passengers from ad hoc landing spots on the side of mountains under marginal weather conditions. Many of the landing spots were just adequate to accommodate the skids. Within seven days of the disaster, helicopters had airlifted more than 20,000 people and delivered over 500 tons of aid, making this one of the largest scale helicopter rescue operations in the world.


Photo courtesy of AHS International

Attendees at the Grand Awards Banquet included the Indian High Commissioner to Canada, a representative of the Rotary Wing Society of India, and an executive of one of the civil operators. In the photo, left to right:

  • John Garrison, AHS International Chair of the Board and Bell Helicopter President and CEO
  • Col. (Ret.) Sudhir Mallik, Chief of Operations of Span Air India Pvt.
  • High Commissioner to Canada Admr. (Ret.) Nirmal Verma 
  • Wing Commander (ret) Unni Pillai, President of Rotary Wing Society of India Southern Region

Despite in-depth coverage in India of both military and civilian helicopter operations, the incredible heroics have not been well reported in the Western media. The nomination of the crews was submitted by the President of RWSI, and includes additional details and the names of 14 civilian pilots, who will be honored individually at a separate ceremony in Delhi in June. The other operators – civil, military and state government – as well as the maintenance crews and other contributors, are also commended for their heroic and tireless efforts. 

With more than 3 million lives saved by helicopter since its first use in the 1940s, the Uttarakhand rescue operations prove once again the incredible versatility and capabilities of vertical flight aircraft. 

Related: Disaster Relief News

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