PUBLIC SERVICE | SAR
Mountain climbers requiring rescue in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve will have a new ride this year. This is because the National Park Service (NPS) has changed helicopter providers following expiration of contract. Gone is Evergreen Helicopters, which flew mountain rescues under contract for 10 years using a high altitude Aerospatiale SA-315B Lama. In its place is an American Eurocopter AS350-B3 A-Star operated by Prism Helicopters.
"We haven’t had a whole lot of experience with the B3, having only got it on contract two days ago," said John Leonard, the acting NPS south district ranger and lead mountaineering ranger. Compared to the Lama, the B3 "has greater range, is more fuel efficient; is a newer aircraft with cheaper replacement parts and has more support from manufacturers," said Leonard.
Despite the B3’s record-setting landing atop Mount Everest (26,000 feet in 2005), Leonard is cautious about the new helicopter’s high altitude performance; at least when compared to its predecessor. He said that the Lama outperforms the B3 at altitudes of 19,000 feet or higher, based on the two aircraft’s performance curves.
Because the B3 and its crew are new to Denali, the NPS intends to take its time working it to 19,000 feet. In fact, the NPS is restricting rescue flights to 14,500 feet for the time being. Any victims above that height will have to be brought down-mountain by rangers, or get help from U.S. National Guard helicopters.