I always thought that a helicopter ride was fraught with much more danger than jetliners. Was it just a perception or was it real? I looked up the statistics, and it turns out that helicopter crashes occur with a greater frequency of 35%. However, it turns out that you are more likely to survive helicopter crashes so it all balances out.
The value of helicopters is that they can reach inaccessible regions and land in tiny areas, something typical aircraft cannot do. Despite reassurances from others, it was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached the prospect for the first time in 2002.
Fox Glacier, New Zealand
We went to the helipad in the local village of the same name as the glacier. In no time, we were off, and the first thing I found amazing was how quickly the ground disappeared below us.
We all wore headphones and despite them, there was a lot of noise from the engine. It was difficult at times to make out what the pilot was saying. The trip to the glacier was quick as the helicopter descended between the mountain peaks onto the glacier.
We had several minutes to walk around and take some photos and then it was back in the helicopter. I wasn’t quite prepared for what was to come next. As we ascended from the glacier, we headed straight for the rock face of a mountain in front of us, then, at the last few seconds the pilot throttled up the engine, and we just cleared the mountain and headed back to the village. I was wondering if we were going to make it or get smashed on the rockface, which seemed to be only a couple of metres away from us. If the pilot did it for effect, it sure made its impact!
Grand Canyon, USA
The Grand Canyon by any measure is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The chasm is seven miles across from rim to rim and one mile deep.
In 2006, our visit to the canyon was not our first, but this time, it was to be different. We had booked a rafting trip down the Colorado River at the base of the canyon. From a municipal airport in Northern Las Vegas, we flew on a small plane to a ranch on the fringe of the canyon. After a 20 minute wait, we were ready to board the helicopter.
After several minutes in the air, we descended into the void, banking as we avoided the cliffs. I could feel an increase in the G-forces pressing on my body as the pilot descended. While the experience was exhilarating, I thought about where we were going to land? As we flew around the corner of a cliff, we could see a ledge along the river’s edge. There was enough space to land and with room for a dozen individuals ready to board the raft sitting on the river.
Getting to the river was half the fun. We joined others, including a couple of 80-year-olds to run the rapids of the Colorado.
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska
The highlight of our Alaskan cruise of 2007 was an excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier. It sits several miles from the Alaskan capital of Juneau.
At the airport, we boarded our helicopter and the pilot quickly whisked us towards the glacier. On our approach, we could see the large sheet of ice, approximately 15 miles in length. We would be landing on this vast whiteness, and as we got closer, we could see a little red speck. It gradually grew larger and soon we could make out that it was a tent and beside it was two individuals. They were to be our guides for a walk on the glacier.
Once we landed the guides gave us crampons to put on our boots––the surface was very slippery. We investigated a few crevices with their gorgeous turquoise and blue coloured surfaces along with little waterfalls flowing through the ice. We so enjoyed the experience that we didn’t want to leave. Returning to the airport and then the ship felt very much like a letdown.
Today I have no qualms about going on a helicopter. I have overcome my fear and enjoy being able to access areas that I normally could not reach by conventional means. Helicopters are a fun way to experience travel adventures.
Editor’s Note: Dr Adele Thomas, semi-retired medical doctor, and Dr Ely Lazar, retired chiropractor, are on a new mission as the Passionate Retirees. They are dedicated to inspiring the over 50s to live fulfilling and adventurous lives, so that “the twilight years will be the highlight years”. Their book, “Travel Secrets For Seniors” was released in early 2014. With more than 80 years combined of professional experience, their articles, books and workshops cover a range of topics from travel, health, relationships, sexuality and finances for seniors.
“Adele and Ely have always impressed me with their exceptional knowledge, professionalism and positive attitude. Mention their name and the one word that always comes up is respect.” – John Ross, Master Networker