An Extraordinary Adventure Amongst the Himalayan Peaks: As Told by Simone Moro
At this year’s European Rotorcraft Forum, the world famous mountaineer Simone Moro shares his incredible story, where describes his experience co-piloting the AW119Kx helicopter, during the demo tour that took place in Nepal last March, among the peaks of the Himalayan region. An extraordinary adventure that also demonstrated the excellent performance of Leonardo's AW119Kx, used also for various "high-altitude" rescue operations around the Everest base camps.
Simone Moro, the only mountaineer in the world who has reached four 8,000 metre summits during the winter season, has come back to us to recount his helicopter adventure on the Himalayan peaks. In this interview, he explains the personal reasons that led him to carry through the idea of the demo tour in Nepal with Leonardo’s AW119Kx, with so much passion and determination.
A great experience as a mountaineer and your two passions combining: the mountains and helicopters. Was the demo tour in Nepal with our AW119Kx therefore a dream come true?
Dreams must be followed and you have to begin somewhere if you want to reach them. I started in the mountaineering world 35 years ago. The experience has been long, exciting and has given me a happy and intense life. When I approached helicopters it was an uphill path, very steep, full of challenges. But I love difficult things and finding myself flying with the AW119Kx in Nepal, piloting this helicopter together with Captain Ezio Oliva, made me feel "on top". I admired the landscape and I looked down...
How did your passion for helicopters begin?
It comes from a debt of gratitude to an aircraft that helped save my life on Christmas Day in 1997, when I was the only survivor of a tragedy on Annapurna in the Himalayas. I promised to return the favour and the solution I found was to make helicopter rescue missions my second life and profession, flying over the mountains I climb. Piloting gives me a sense of freedom and the helicopter, in these "extreme" places like Nepal, essentially saves lives and is helpful to a country that faces great difficulties.
Was there a particular episode in your mountaineering experience that inspired you to launch this challenge for high altitude rescues?
Other than the tragedy in 1997, I later performed a rescue on foot, with ice axes and crampons, risking my own life to save that of a boy whom I did not even know, at an altitude of over 26,200 feet without oxygen. For that venture, I received the gold medal for Civil Valour from the President of the Italian Republic Ciampi. That was in 2001, and since then things have changed. Many rescue efforts are now possible thanks to new aircraft and men who know how to put themselves on the line, making full use of their skills and knowledge.
How did our AW119Kx perform?
Extraordinarily well and these tests can be an additional opportunity for development. The Kx is a capable helicopter with further margin for improvement that can make it the benchmark in its class. Now, encouraged by the excellent performance in Nepal, we can see how we can make this helicopter appeal also for the aerial work market.
The mountainous countries of the world are innumerable and in many cases are developing, rich in water and natural resources. In the coming decades, there will be a great need for helicopters and means to help these populations. We must be ready and responsive with a perfect machine. The AW119Kx can further improve and it is focusing on that margin that we need to make a difference.
What were the most difficult tests you faced during the tour?
Flying with Ezio was a great experience. The missions at 24,000 feet in ISA + 10, the landings at almost 19,000 feet in ISA + 15, the hovering with 360° rotation with left pedal at 16,568 feet, turning off and restarting the engine at the Everest Base Camp at 17,388 feet… Transporting cargo to the various base camps at high altitude and the evacuation of climbers from altitudes and weather conditions that could be considered less than favourable have been really challenging tests. This mission was a spectacular adventure that pleased not only us, but also many operators. It confirms that, when I shared this project with Leonardo in 2014, I was right. I am Italian: this helicopter and its manufacturer, Leonardo, represent my country, which when it wishes is really unrivalled. These tests are yet another confirmation of this. We can and should be proud of it.
What was the most exciting moment?
Seeing the Kx land at Kathmandu and being on the pad to make the landing signals was a liberating moment that made me think back how far we had come. Flying at the same altitude of a jumbo jet, close to peaks of 23,622 feet and flying past the flanks of Everest with the AW119Kx were intense moments that gave me satisfaction and pride. I want to thank those who, over the years, never ceased their trust in me. What was achieved with these tests must now be a starting point. The best is still to come…