The 2009 Igor I. Sikorsky Award for Humanitarian Service has been presented by Helicopter Association International to the Grand Canyon National Park Helitack program, operated by Papillon Grand Canyon Helicopters of Grand Canyon, Arizona.
On August 16, Havasu Canyon, a popular side canyon of the Grand Canyon, flooded as a result of heavy rain. That evening, the Grand Canyon Regional Communications Center received word that five unmanned rafts had been seen floating down the Colorado River with supplies and personal floatation devices aboard. Early the next day, a Helitack helicopter found the boating party stranded on a ledge at the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River. A plan was conceived by the flight crew that the safest and most efficient way to get the people to safety was to evacuate them on a long line across Havasu Canyon to a safe landing area.
Once in position, the rescuers fitted each boater in a rescue triangle and climbing helmet. The evacuation required precision flying under difficult conditions due to the tight canyon and the need to hover for prolonged periods in close proximity to the canyon wall, but all the members of the boating party were evacuated.
Grand Canyon National Park Helitack provides search and rescue services, medical evacuations, short-haul rescues and aerial search platforms. During the summer, the Helitack program adds 14 firefighters, who provide wildland support including fire initial attack, heli-rappel firefighter deployment, long line cargo support, passenger transport, water bucket support, and other large fire logistical support. They fly in excess of 450 flight hours in the Grand Canyon annually.
The award winners will be recognized at Heli-Expo 2009’s awards banquet on February 23.