Prince Charles hitches ride on police helicopter

Prince Charles touches down at The Ritz-Carlton, where he met a delegation of people who had helped hurricane survivors in Turks and Caicos in 2017. - Photo: Stephen Clarke

Barely a week into its service, Cayman’s new police helicopter carried some precious cargo.

Prince Charles used the newest addition to Cayman’s fleet during his royal visit, travelling from Little Cayman to Clifton Hunter High School on Grand Cayman and then on to The Ritz-Carlton. He landed outside the hotel Thursday to meet a detachment of emergency responders who had been deployed in 2017 to help in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes in the region.

The helicopter made a dramatic entrance flying above The Ritz-Carlton’s golf course before landing on a helipad, and Prince Charles went up and down a receiving line shaking hands of the people who deployed to storm-damaged areas in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“It was really exciting. It was beautiful to see,” said Danielle Coleman, director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands. “It’s an incredible occasion for all of us here in the Cayman Islands, and it’s really good that he and the duchess have gone around to all these events for the last few days.”

Earlier, after landing at Clifton Hunter school where he was greeted by students, Prince Charles visited the nearby Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, before returning to the school and re-boarding the helicopter for the journey to The Ritz-Carlton. He was accompanied on the ride by Governor Martyn Roper.

The prince briefly shared a moment with each person in the line, shaking their hands and learning how they had contributed in the Caribbean’s hour of need.

Steve Fitzgerald, unit executive officer of the Air Operations Unit with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said it was a proud moment for Cayman to have the prince riding in its helicopter.

“It was really great that he took the time out to meet with the team,” said Fitzgerald. “We’ve been through a lot in the past few weeks with getting this aircraft here. It’s good to show people the aircraft and the fact that the prince was one of the first people to ride in it is quite indescribable.”

The timing of the arrival of the Airbus H145 helicopter on island last month was brought forward after the RCIPS’s existing helicopter sustained damage and was taken out of service following an aborted take-off caused by a technical fault in February.

Fitzgerald said Cayman’s Air Operations Unit organised quickly in the wake of Hurricane Irma and arrived in Turks and Caicos in storm-force conditions in September 2017. They had to anchor the aircraft down overnight, and then began the hard work of flying around damaged areas and helping people.

Prince Charles meets members of the RCIPS’s Air Support Unit and other emergency support responders who travelled to Turks and Caicos following a devastating hurricane in 2017. – Photo: Stephen Clarke

“The first thing they had to do was go around the islands and reassure people that help was coming,” he said. “And then they did the damage assessments and started ferrying people out. It was something that we never imagined we’d do anywhere else other than the Cayman Islands. We’re fortunate in the Cayman Islands that since the aircraft has been here nine years ago, we haven’t had to do that.”

Neil Mohammed, the deputy unit executive officer with the Air Operations Unit, said the new helicopter will give the team more capability and more payload to meet future emergency operations. And as one of the people standing in line and waiting for the Prince, he was thrilled with the recognition.

“It’s probably one of the biggest pats on the back we’ve received [with] the prince coming and making mention of our deployment to [Turks and Caicos Islands],” he said.

Their moment with Prince Charles was brief, but as far as Fitzgerald is concerned, having a royal in a Cayman aircraft is a moment that may never be duplicated.

“It says ‘Police’, but this is a Cayman Islands aircraft. And he’s flown in it,” he said. “We’re particularly proud. As far as I know, this is the only police aircraft that has had royal flight approval to have a royal in it, other than the Princes William and Harry who fly them. That’s a different thing.”

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