Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Pitons By Chopper - A St Lucia Fly By

Helicopter travel is not that regular in the Caribbean, but it does happen. Choppers are used for sightseeing sometimes and of course they are useful for getting to remote places quickly, high into the mountains, for instance.

My only helicopter trip in the Caribbean was courtesy of LeSport in St Lucia, when as part of a BBC team I was flown from the international airport in the south to the north of the island, the location of the hotel. It saved a long journey by road and of course it is fun to do. And there was one exceptional moment during the trip. I expect the pilots love doing it, but as a passenger it was stomach-lurching as it was impressive and unforgettable.

Helicopters are always fun to travel in. We were sent forward by the hostess to the machine which was idling on the tarmac, dipping our heads as we came under the rotors. I blagged my way to the front seat next to the pilot and grabbed the headphones. The pilot talked briefly to the control tower and then tensed as he deliberately pressed the footplate and held onto his gear stick. The rotors ground into the air, the cage of the airframe shuddering, whining and screaming a hundred different mechanical complaints.

We lifted gradually and at thirty feet the pilot put the nose down and drove us forwards. His eyes were on the horizon, but I watched the ground pass away beneath us - tarmac, grass, perimeter fence, cattle, a rivulet, individual trees dotted in a plain, a village of red roofs along a serpentine valley, a car making its way along a half hidden road five hundred feet below us. And then the interminable green, with barely a visible human imprint, just an occasional plot cut into the steep hillsides. Otherwise it was simply the canopy, like a green blanket covering the steep valleys and clefts that ran across our path.

We climbed, steadily, keeping pace with the rising ground - six, eight hundred feet, a thousand, twelve hundred. The Gros Piton rose on our left, a massive lump. I can’t remember at what point the tip of the Petit Piton appeared, but gradually it imposed itself on the surroundings, a spike of stone soaring out of the greenery. We chugged on and gradually up, maintaining a position a couple of hundred feet above the canopy, the green sea of the forest.

I guessed what was coming, but there is nothing to prepare you for the gut-wrenching, utterly boggling moment when it happens. Suddenly we cleared the lip of the land. It was like a fairground ride. The carpet of green beneath us fell away five hundred feet in an instant and suddenly we were a tiny blob in a massive volcanic bowl, all of which was clearly visible in the glass bubble of the helicopter. A miniature tennis court, red roofs dotted in the greenery, tiny fluorescent windsurf sails on the beach far below.

To make it worse, the pilot began to descend at once – a touch more quickly that he needed to, perhaps - and my stomach was left a hundred feet above me. The blackened wall of the Petit Piton is so vast that it seemed just feet ahead and I wanted to shout at him to watch out – surely we were about to pile into it – even though intellectually I knew it was half a mile away.

But it was all in a day’s work for him. He calmly swung the airframe around to the left, swooping, down a thousand feet over the Jalousie Hilton (as it was then) and out to sea, swinging back into land and coming in to rest on their landing pad on the water’s edge. The other passenger got out and we continued our journey. We climbed and climbed and headed north along the coast, passing over the bays, beaches and towns. The Caribbean coast of St Lucia is exceptional in itself, but nothing can compare to a close up of the Petit Piton from a chopper.


  1. Sounds like a great experience although not perhaps for the faint of heart!

    A video of the St. Lucia helicopter tour is available at http://bookingsstlucia.com/encyc/carib/stlucia/stlucia-videos-item.cfm?videoItem=7&videoSet=3

  2. Sounds awesome. See a student was stranded on the Petit Piton a few months ago and rescued by a chopper such as yours... I'd say if you must get stranded on a volcano, this is a top choice of location.

  3. Does sound awesome doesn't it...Being scared of heights I can't think of anything worse...even the Brittens and other small planes around the islands scare the hell out of me!

    Still, all adds to your experiences of the Caribbean...

  4. I am totally jealous - having lived most my life in St. Lucia, and not being afraid of heights :) I've always wanted to take a camera up and do a helicopter tour, but they're a little out of my budget - maybe someday!

    Meanwhile I'll continue to put smudge-marks on LIAT's cabin windows!

  5. hmm, maybe I should try and set up a 'win a helicopter trip' competition...any ideas?

  6. Not off the top of my head, but if you do, let me know, I'm in :)

  7. Carribean photography competition? Results would give lots of material for your blog as well

  8. hmmm, they have been done before and this blog has only been live for a few months...Think I need to have a bit more traffic first! X

  9. Wow! It's such a beautiful place. Spending holidays in St Lucia must be really fun. It's great to try East Winds Inn holidays. Many reviews find it so accommodating.


Bookmark and Share
Related Posts with Thumbnails