Optimism reigned at the Paris press conference
in late May announcing the transatlantic flight. From left to right, Bernard
Certain, Technical Director, Eurocopter; Siegfried Sobota, Vice-Chairman
of Eurocopter; Jean-Francois Bigay, Chairman of Eurocopter; Edmond Marchegay,
Chairman of Intertechnique; Philippe Boutry, Pilot; and Gerard David, Pilot.
For Gerard David and Philippe Boutry, the day has ended earlier than expected. Due to technical problems, the attempt to set a record for non-stop transatlantic crossing from New York to Paris by a single engine helicopter has been stopped.
The helicopter was forced to land on the ocean-going tug, La Picardie, the first refuel ship, after refueling and traveling some distance from the ship. The crew made the decision to land after it was apparent that they would be unable to continue the flight.
The extra fuel tank inside L'Esprit d'Intertechnique 1997 was leaking as the helicopter approached the flight's halfway mark, forcing the pilots to end the flight prematurely. Crews aboard the ocean-going refuel tug, La Picardie, were not equipped to repair the tank. The heavy-duty, rubber-coated fabric, extra fuel tank was fitted inside the helicopter in place of the back seats.
There is no indication from the ship crew or helicopter pilots as to the suspected cause of the leak.
With the helicopter secured on the deck of La Picardie, the ship will carry aircraft and pilots back to Gander, Newfoundland.
While ground-based teams of the French sponsors, Intertechnique and Eurocopter, were relieved that the pilots were okay and safely aboard the ship, disappointment at the flight's early end was a natural expression. Many members of both teams spent all night at the Aeroclub of France in Paris keeping tabs on the flight via satellite communications with the crew. For those hardy and somewhat sleep-starved adventurists waiting patiently for news of the next milestone, L'Esprit d'Intertechnique 1997 was an eagle that had somehow errantly fluttered to earth. Remi Stelescot, a manager of external relations for Intertechnique, had been in the Aeroclub since Friday afternoon. Now, at 11:58 am Paris time, he could only send the following words,
"The crossing has been stopped!!"
Mechanical failure had been one of three potential challenges facing the challengers. As Ron Bower, one of two pilots of a 1996 around-the-world helicopter flight, said, "Pilot and aircraft endurance are two of the main factors. I wish them the best."
Frank Jensen, President of Helicopter Association International, added, "Generally the three factors are weather, human failure, or mechanical."
Scott Barnes, well-known author of numerous articles on helicopters, said, "There are several problems that can crop up. Main drive shaft or tail rotor bearings freezing up on you. These are all concerns."
Kathleen Kocks, editor of Rotor & Wing echoed Jensen's concerns, "There are probably three critical issues: one, of course is weather, another one is mechanical problems and the third one would be pilot fatigue. I applaud their pioneering spirit and I wish them good luck and God's speed."
The AeroWorldNet reporting team joins Kocks and aviation enthusiasts from around the world in saying to Gerard David and Philippe Boutry, "We applaud your pioneering spirit. Good luck and God's speed home."
And, we're glad you're safe.
Here's to your next attempt.