Chopper returns to the air

Jerome Begot is flying high these days.

After being grounded by Hurricane Ivan, the owner of Cayman Islands Helicopters returned to the skies, offering residents and tourists a bird’s-eye view of the island.

‘I’m happy to be back,’ said Begot, who made his first flight in the company’s new AS-350 Eurocopter last month.

‘Everybody must come back – it’s the only way to make the island productive again.’

Begot’s morning flight that took five cruise ship passengers on an aerial tour of Cayman was apt timing – exactly four months to the day when the storm demolished his original helicopter.

‘I lost on the 12th and I came back on the 12th.’

The five-seater Bell 206 weathered the storm in the Island Air hangar which was badly damaged by the unrelenting winds. By the end, the helicopter was outside the building, flooded by the storm surge.

‘I found a fish inside.’

Disappointed but not discouraged, Begot set about rebuilding the company, which he introduced to Cayman with partner Marcel Boutin less than a year before Ivan.

‘You have to try to do your best to start again.’

Begot said the new chopper can accommodate six passengers – two more than the previous one – and bookings are already coming back on stream. The company offers several tour packages ranging from short sightseeing trips to full-island excursions that include breathtaking views of such popular sites as Stingray City, the Turtle Farm, Rum Point, Seven Mile Beach, George Town harbour and other local landmarks. Tour packages range from US$65 to US$265, with discounts for residents.

‘It’s an amazing way to see Cayman,’ enthused one resident, who flew above ground and over open water last week spotting everything from nerf sharks to stingrays to starfish in the crystal clear waters below.

While the company focuses on the cruise ship industry, it also offers private charters along with search and rescue services, available 24 hours a day.

Originally from the south of France, Begot has been flying for more than a dozen years. Before moving to Cayman, he spent seven years in Montreal, where he operated his own helicopter company for four years. One of his flight students introduced him to the Cayman Islands, encouraging him to set up shop here. He launched the venture last February, the first of its kind in Cayman.

Soaring up to 1,000 feet, the helicopter tours take off from the airport at the Island Air terminal but will soon take flight from downtown George Town. A helicopter pad being constructed behind the Lobster Pot is expected to be completed this month.

Flight reservations can be made by calling 943-4354 or 929-0116.

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