Choppers play key role in relief work

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-10 07:33

Construction of a second heliport on the banks of the Tangjiashan quake lake was completed on Sunday.

Almost immediately afterward, soldiers gave it the tongue-in-cheek moniker: "Tangjiashan's second international airport", because choppers from Russia and China took off from and landed on the banks dozens of times every day, Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday.

The helicopter remains the primary means of transport to and from Tangjiashan - a swelling lake formed when landslides blocked the river, the banks of which are threatening to burst and flood. Large machines, such as bulldozers and excavators, are unable to pass along the roadways and must be airlifted in.

And Tangjiashan is not the only place where such is the reality.

"Helicopters have played an irreplaceable role in many missions since the earthquake jolted Sichuan (on May 12)," assistant chief engineer with China Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II) Wang Bin said.

Helicopters have carried more than 1,000 overseas tourists and injured villagers out of quake-affected areas, and delivered food, water and medical teams to remote villages.

According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), six general aviation companies and 30 civilian helicopters were involved in relief efforts as of last Thursday. They carried 1,881 people and 574 tons of materials to quake-affected areas.

Industry insiders said more than 100 choppers were used in the relief work - a record high for the country.

But the most impressive helicopter in these missions was the Russian-made Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter, AVIC II's Wang said.

On May 26, experts determined the swelling Tangjiashan quake lake to be dangerous and proposed a water diversion channel to drain lake. But at that time, none of the available helicopters could lift anything as heavy as a bulldozer.

The problem was solved when Russia sent a Mi-26 to Sichuan. So far, it has airlifted dozens of heavy machines, and tons of fuel and daily necessities to Tangjiashan. TV news coverage of the model airlifting machines to the lake served as the best advertisement for the helicopter manufacturers could hope for, Wang said.

"Since the Mi-26 carried bulldozers and excavators to Tangjiashan quake lake, its sales agent in China, who is an acquaintance of mine, has received many calls inquiring about the model," he said.

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