Helicopters are an important means of transportation in Greenland. This is because many of the settlements and communities cannot build landing strips for airplanes. But there is usually always room for a helipad. And the two Airbus aircraft we have on board have already proven their worth. On today’s fourth day, they are scheduled to get us airborne in the southwest.
Helicopter operations are complex undertakings that require a high degree of organization and skill. In polar regions this is especially true and safety is placed above all else, both for the people and the environment. Therefore, there is uncertainty among us guests as to whether we will see the plans of expedition leader Allison implemented today, the fourth of our trip. Cloud-covered mountain peaks, wafts of fog and light rain show how quickly weather conditions can change in this corner of Greenland. But Steve, one of the three pilots, says with a laugh that it looks great and they’re already on a reconnaissance flight to find a suitable landing site. “The rain is not a problem. It’s just going to be a little damp for you guys out there,” he says with a wink. Well, he’s British and should know then, shouldn’t he?
In fact, less than an hour later, we are sitting quite comfortably in one of the aircraft and roaring between the mountains and the fjord onto a high plateau. The rain has subsided, the scenery is as one imagines Greenland: wild and a smorgasbord of colors and shapes. Since we are the first group, only the ground team is at the landing site, welcoming us and instructing us on the hikes planned up here. Massive granite boulders, lichen, lush tundra plants, many willows and crowberry bushes adorn the plateau. But we were particularly taken with the view. From the edge of the plateau, Prins Christian Sound stretches out before our feet. A view that is denied to others who only pass through here and gives us a feeling of discovery. And the clouds drifting over the mountainsides, forming spectacular formations high in the sky, frame it all. It’s a highlight that grabs me too, despite years of polar experience. The hike seems far too short, although we spend more than two hours at the site. Our guides are also thrilled.
The enthusiasm for the heli hike remains visible in the faces of all of us even after our return. Some say they would have loved to spend more time experiencing Prins Christian Sound with its icebergs and spectacular scenery from above. And lo and behold, the wish comes true in the afternoon. Because instead of the planned visit to the small community of Aappilattoq with its hundred inhabitants, we will take to the air again and see more of the area during a flightseeing. The reason for the change of plan, which is not unusual for expedition trips, becomes apparent when we fly past the settlement with our helicopter: another expedition ship of a company known to me is moored in front of the community and probably wants to land its guests there. This should not be the case, since the shipping companies share their schedules. But sometimes there are scheduling conflicts, whether intentional or unintentional. Since we have more possibilities to change our program, a visit became a sightseeing flight without further ado. None of us is angry about it, because the scenery is just too great. It also shows how important the two helicopters are for this expedition and represent a real trump card that once again stung on this expedition.
Dr. Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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