XU-189 cleared for takeoff – The helicopter experience

“Siem Reap Tower, Good Afternoon XU-189 requesting startup for Angkor Wat flight”

“Good Afternoon XU-189 Startup approved”

“Siem Reap Tower, XU

-189 requesting take off clearance for Angkor Wat flight”

“XU-189 cleared for takeoff”

I was elated, all strapped up in the Eurocopter AS350 with my better half for a flight over the historic Angkor Wat complex.

As always there was paucity of time for planning this trip but we did get the chopper ride added to our bucket list for Cambodia. The first thing we did post landing from Kuala Lumpur in Siem Reap was to contact the company conducting helicopter tours, only to be told that we should pay for 3 passengers or wait for two more people to register.

Let’s wait we said and requested the hotel – a gorgeous boutique property, to keep following up. The hotel also came up with the same, pay for 3 or wait for 2 more. Let’s wait we said again!

This was my third attempt for a chopper ride and our second together. Will we or wont we? The thought continued as we went around the Siem Reap – enjoying the night life and seeing hawkers sell everything from insects to frogs to snakes as snacks.

The next morning, we were welcomed by sweltering heat as we traversed through the Angkor Wat complex with our friendly tuk tuk driver. By late afternoon we were back, bordering the symptoms of sun stroke. No sooner did we switch on the aircon and order food, the phone rang! The enthusiastic owner of the hotel was on the line, confirming that we should expect the pickup from the helicopter company at 3:15pm. The time then was 2:45pm.

Excited were we? Not exactly at that point of time, having returned after 6 hours in oppressive sun. But there was no time to think. Within a split second we said yes, firstly gathering our mental strength, followed by the minimal stuff which will be required for the ride – passport, water, camera! We were at the dining table within minutes with the owner of the hotel also doubling up as the cook to prepare the lunch. The last gulp of the tasty Burmese noodles coincided with the arrival of the tuk tuk from the helicopter company.

The slow & unsteady tuk tuk made its way towards the airport. The 30-minute journey again in the sultry weather started feeling like a nightmare again. The landscape kept changing – from the bazaars of Siem Reap to the Highway leading to the airport. As we inched closer to the airport, a different nightmare stood in front of us. Cloud formations indicating a storm.

The sunny clear skies were making way for dark clouds, right over the airport. The beautiful smell of rice emitting from the rice fields around was not attracting us anymore.

Thoughts of 2004 clogged my mind. Gangtok helipad – Sikkim, India. My parents, brother and I had signed up for the joy ride operated by Pawan Hans. Everything seemed perfect until we reached the helipad in clear weather, when suddenly heavy unseasonal showers started. The showers were so bad that the incoming flight from Bagdogra had to land mid-way. Our ride was obviously cancelled.

The next time was with the lady luck around in Russia where we missed flying the Mi-8 over St. Petersburg. The waiting was too long on Sunday and chopper was not around when we returned on Monday.

As we reached the airport, the storm was in sight, the ground crew was checking the Eurocopter but two other people and the pilot were nowhere in sight. The heat had made way for a cool breeze and it looked that it would soon make way for a heavy shower.

And it started to rain! We were moved to a waiting lounge in the porta cabin which doubled up as the waiting area for pilots. Dressed in crisp clothes, a gentlemen got down from a mobike and introduced himself as the pilot of our ride in a heavy Australian accent.

He had some re assuring words from the weather perspective. The weather is clearing up and we should be ready to fly in another 15-20 minutes. The words ended with another couple walking in and that completes the later part of “pay for 3 or find 2 more”.

The showers did stop as the pilot predicted and off we went excitedly to the apron. The pilot and his ground assistant – did not look like Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (AME) to be honest – took a round of the aircraft followed by a safety briefing to his 4 passengers for the day.

We boarded the helicopter and strapped ourselves followed by putting on the headsets. The pilot did a check of systems and tuned in to tower frequency at Siem Reap.

“Siem Reap Tower, Good Afternoon XU-189 requesting startup for Angkor Wat flight”

“XU-189 cleared for takeoff”

I have heard some scary take off stories from my friends who are pilots but this was smooth, steady as we steered clear of the runway and also of the UNESCO world heritage site of Angkor Wat, flying up to 5000 feet and not descending below 500 feet. The highlight was the Rainbow which appeared right in front of us, before we landed.

First the view from the left and then from the right before we head back said the pilot. The time in the air was just to absorb as much as we could of the helicopter and Angkor Wat, before we came back avoiding the approach path and touching down smoothly.

A quick chat with the pilot followed by some pictures and off we were back to the hotel in the tuk tuk.

Mesmerized with the whole experience, it also was a great ride to see that the world has come together to protect this heritage and the past has a secure future.

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