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Five Erickson Aircrane Helitankers, the most versatile high performance helicopters in the world, are steaming toward Australia by ship to join Australian firefighters gearing up for the 2008 bushfire season.
Two of the Helitankers will be based in Sydney, one in Adelaide and two in Melbourne, including “Elvis” the star of the fleet. “Elvis” the Aircrane gained near cult status in the public after it helped save hundreds of homes during “Black Christmas”, the horrible bushfire season of 2001 as part of a massive effort to contain fires tearing through bush left bone dry by drought and fanned by high winds and hot temperatures.
“We feel so close to Australia and the wonderful people down under that it’s as if we are fighting to save our own homes,” said Udo Rieder, President and CEO of Erickson Air-Crane. “This is our 11th year assisting the heroic firefighters of Australia who are the real heroes risking their lives every single day to protect lives and property. We are very proud of our helicopter pilots and crews as well, who are the best anywhere and extremely dedicated,” Rieder added.
The first helitanker will arrive in Australia by early November and the other four by mid-December.
Erickson Aircranes are highly sought after by fire departments around the world because of their unique capabilities. “Elvis” and the other Helitankers have the capacity to dump 9,000 litres of water or fire retardant at speeds and distribution ranges programmed into an onboard computer. Two innovative snorkel attachments for the Helitanker take 45 seconds or less to fill up from any freshwater or saltwater source at least 18 inches deep and have achieved the quickest turn-around times of any air brushfire asset.
The Erickson Aircranes have been locked in by contract for three years with an option for two more years afterwards.
Erickson Aircranes have battled fires in several countries, including Italy, Greece, France, South Korea, Canada and Malaysia. The versatile helicopter has worked in many more countries performing timber harvesting, construction and hydro seeding operations, which jumpstarts foliage growth to keep fire-scorched hillsides from becoming mudslides.
Erickson has also just debuted a new and important capability for response to other kinds of disasters. The Aircrane Incident Response System or AIRS has created great interest from disaster managers for capabilities that include transporting and placing modular containers for command posts, medical triage, and treatment centers in hard to reach areas impacted by disaster. It can carry in water, fuel, generators, and supplies. It has a grapple that can pick up and carry away large pieces of debris from cars to whole trees to big pieces of buildings and bridges. It even has a huge basket that can carry up to sixty people for use in hi-rise rescues or marine accidents where it is lowered into the water to save lives. The Aircrane has become so versatile that disaster managers have dubbed it “the Flying Swiss Army Knife”.