Visit of the Wreck: The Flight ...


Preparations ...

We talked about everything with Christian Niehoff from HELITOURS S.L. He confirmed the program in his mail upfront:

"Of course, we will only take-off when the weather conditions will be favorable. Preferably, we make an appointment in the beginning of our excursion so that we have enough time in case of having to postpone the flight.

We will take off sometime between 13:00h and 14:00h so that we have a little bit of shade and we are able to take some shots towards the coast. The late afternoon would be better in regards to the light; however, once-in-a-while the weather at the west coast will be a little hazy in the late afternoon …

Waiting for Christian: At the old pirates’ tower from El Cotillo ... ... and waiting for the helicopter ...

Unfortunately, El Cotillo does not have a heliport. There is a lot of construction in town and its surroundings (sadly!) so that you can find suitable landing spots only on short notice. While working in Fuerteventura in January, our pilots will look for a suitable take-off and landing spot in or around Cotillo and at the same time file for the required authorizations. If necessary, we will move to Corralejo but I think that we will find a "nice spot" somewhere.

Your camera man will have a special restraint providing full range of motion and optimal stabilization. After take-off, we will fly south hugging the coast and above Betancuria and Pajara to the PLAYA DE GARCEY. Above the "American Star", we will open the helicopter’s sliding door and the photo shoot can begin ...

I think that we will have a large number of photographs from different angles within 15 minutes. Before take-off, we will definitely talk about the details with the pilot. During the flight, we will be able to talk to each other via the onboard-intercom-system (with the pilot only in English or Spanish). We will return to Cotillo along the coast above Ajuy - and depending on the flight time - also above Tindaya and Lajares. According to our plans, the total flight should last about 55 to 60 minutes. We will fly in our Eurocopter "Ecureuil" (squirrel) built especially for film and sightseeing flights (max. of six passengers plus one pilot)."

The Exploration Flight ...

We park our cars at the old pirates’ tower next to El Cotillo’s new harbor from where we will take-off. We wait for Christian with whom we want to meet today and who arrives on time in his vehicle showing visibly "Helicopter Flights Rundfluege" including the phone number.

Many like to see the "Jet Ranger" ... Of course, everything happened in a different way than it had been planned weeks before: The "squirrel" had to undergo the 500 hour inspection during our stay and therefore we had to improvise. Christian had to pull out all the stops in order to make our flight happen. He was finally successful to retain Hermann Steinbichler from "Blue Canarias Helicopters 2003 S.L" from Gran Canaria including his Bell 206 "Jet Ranger" as pilot for our flight.

Hermann is Austrian. His helicopter originally belonged to the Austrian Ministry of Internal Affairs and was used as a rescue helicopter. Since the Austrians as the Germans handed over the rescue missions to the automobile clubs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs had too many helicopters and you could buy a couple of those. Hermann got his helicopter this way and he still flies it with the OE-identification and almost with the original paint job: only the now white area was bright orange.

Hermann flying also in Austria and Dubai besides Canary Islands is a specialist of transporting high-voltage towers: And later on, we will really benefit from these experiences during our exploration flight above the wreck ...

On February 24, 2007, we start with our "mission" to the wreck at the old pirates’ tower; besides the Explorer Team with the wreath and the rose, Dirk Evers and his life partner Heidi on board - the man enjoying to "dance with jellyfish" wanted to be comfortable for a change ...

The way along the west coast is traveled fast and already from Ajuy you can easily see remainders of the American Star in the distance - the wreck is still a striking eye catcher at the coast and already visible in the air from far away.

We started a little later than planned since our "Jet Ranger" had been transferred from Gran Canaria. The wind blows pretty strong which we do not feel in Hermann's helicopter until we open the big side door when above the wreck. The light is favorable and we look at a major surf rolling in - it is high tide.

From this perspective, the wreck below us seems to be in horrible condition - due to our today’s photographs - Bill Lee will have to update the "autopsy" by the sea. All structures are already broken off; remaining only parts of the upper deck that was constructed as the upper part of the hull structure. While we are floating above the waves and the remaining loading masts, you can clearly see sunrays shining onto the water through the holes of the few remaining ship walls. However, the enormous hull below us still looks respectable from this perspective - the massive rusty parts in close distance are still showing the ship’s dimensions from which there is only a quarter of its original length left ...

All on board hold their breath when our pilot shows his skills while circling the wreck and the rusty parts seem to be within our grasp ...

We spent more than the original planned 15 minutes since we are fascinated by the wreck as well as Hermann never seen the American Star’s remainders like this. He announces that he will fly by here again on his way back to Gran Canaria - as it looks like he also impressed by the sight offered below our helicopter and by the ship’s long history that find its end in front of the rocky shores ...

The time has come to fulfill our "mission": After the prepared text was spoken over the onboard intercom, the drop of the wreath and the rose follows. "In memory of the men of the WEST POINT who once sailed her into harm’s way and have now gone to their eternal duty stations". Surely, a moment that all participants will always remember. Two years later we will make a short video titled "In Memory" which is dedicated to the veterans of the USS West Point ... 

Closing in ... ... and a ceremony: In memory ...

One thing we do not know at this time: In a few days, we will find the wreath hitting directly in front of the wreck’s back part again: Washed up the beach by the same ocean gnawing away relentlessly the American Star’s remainders ...

Deeply impressed we start our return flight. Hermann provides us with a real "Apocalypse Now" helicopter feeling when the ride back with open door follows rocky shores and sprayed up surf. In Ajuy, we see tourists on the beach while flying by, only moments later at the Playa de Santa InÚs it is time to remember the Jucar that was once one of the four wrecks of the island ...

Soon El Cotillo emerges in front of us. Hermann touches down his "Jet Ranger" gently behind the old pirates tower - the discovery flight is over and "mission accomplished"!

Mission accomplished!

We say good bye to Christian waiting for us on the ground and to Hermann. It is already certain that we will recommend these "islands flyers". We are taking this opportunity again to thank for the successful excursion which all participants will remember for a long time!

When drinking our "After Landing Beer" at the "El Roque de los Pescadore" in El Cotillo and exchanging first impressions of our flight, we all agree: We will not forget today’s visit at the Playa de Garcey anytime soon ...


Note of the editor: More photographs about our helicopter flight are on our special CD "American Star"

And here you find a little YouTube-teaser regarding our documentary video "Tribute to an Old Girl" which came on DVD in November 2007 ..!


© 2007-2009 Explorer Magazin, Photographs: J. de Haas, Dirk Evers
English Translation: Britta Schaa, Venice Florida