On a quiet Bodden Town afternoon, the loud noise of a helicopter suddenly interrupts the peace; fingers point, and all eyes look to the sky as the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service chopper slows over the Bodden Town Primary School playing field and begins its descent, kicking up a violent cloud of dust and dirt in a scene like something out of a Hollywood movie.
The helicopter powers down and the side doors open, and out step RCIPS Air Operations Unit Commander Steve Fitzgerald and Sergeant Neil Mohammed in full tactical gear of helmet with black visor and black vests.
As Commander Fitzgerald takes his position to the left of the helicopter, Sergeant Mohammed takes up position to the front. He gives the thumbs-up to Captain Richard Morcombe, as the helicopter rotor blades come to a standstill and the dust settles.
Students of Bodden Town and North Side’s Edna M. Moyle Primary Schools enrolled in the YMCA’s after-school program were getting an up-close and personal visit from the chopper to learn more about the police service and its helicopter.
As they gathered in awe outside the playing field fence to watch the landing last Friday, questions broke loose at once among the kids.
“We going to get to ride in the helicopter?” “Do they have guns on board?” and on it went.
First off, about that helicopter.
“It started its life as a … Eurocopter E135T1 but is now called an Airbus H135,” said Sergeant Mohammed.
“That’s the make of the helicopter,” he added.
He said the RCIPS air unit operates with a crew of three, made up of one pilot and two tactical flight officers, but the aircraft can carry up to five crew members.
Sergeant Mohammed explained the unit’s mission of searching for missing people, saving lives, catching criminals and protecting the Cayman borders.
“What do you do to catch the convicts that are running away?” asked one student.
”We don’t have to chase them when we are up high, we just have to turn the camera on them,” responded the police officer.
“What do you do with the camera, shock them?” another student asked.
“The camera is to assist the officers on the ground in catching the criminals,” Sergeant Mohammed explained.
“How fast can the helicopter go?” was another student’s query.
“It can go up to 130 miles per hour and stay in the air for about 2½ hours,” replied the sergeant.
Students also asked where the helicopter got gas, and what the various instruments on the control panel were used for.
Commander Fitzgerald said after a long day engaging in an active ongoing investigation, the police officers were only too happy to see a softer side of life by interacting with the children and answer their questions.
He said it was not the first time police had landed on a school’s playing field, and the unit had already visited a few schools to help educate children about the air unit’s role.
“It is something they will remember, it’s not all about the helicopter, it’s about the Cayman Islands Police and everything we are doing. The more we can engage the youngsters the better,” he said.
YMCA site coordinator Ricardo Sealy said the after-school program assists children with things like homework, and at the Bodden Town school the program offers 13 different activities throughout the school week with the students.
“It’s a means of assisting parents with supervision and control of the children after school, because many of the parents work until 5 p.m., and it’s impossible for them to leave town, pick up their children, take them home and get back to work on time.
“This is a fine opportunity for the YMCA to keep them in a safe environment until their parents come for them,” he said.
Seventy-two students ranging in age from 5 to 11 years old are enrolled in the Bodden Town program, and 15 students are in the North Side program.
The YMCA of the Cayman Islands’ focus is on youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, with volunteers heading up the after-school programs at the schools.
Mr. Sealy said the program is also geared at providing a sense of community spirit to the students.
“The visit by the police was to give them more understanding and a greater knowledge of what happens in the RCIPS services,” he said.
“We hoped by the end of the day the children would understand more about the police force, the helicopter and its uses to the Cayman islands.”