LEEWARD ISLANDS HELICOPTERS
ISLAND TOURS BY HELICOPTER
This year Destination 2007 magazine brings you some fun suggestions for touring the island and we’re pretty sure you‘ll agree this year’s sightseeing option is going to take some beating as we took to the air for a breathtaking bird’s eye view of St. Maarten/St. Martin.
One most glorious tropical morning, in the expert hands of Captain Michael Huttenlocker of Leeward Island Helicopters, we boarded an awesome Robinson R-44 helicopter at the helipad in Port de Plaisance near the border between the French and Dutch side of the island for what was to be the most exhilarating tour ever. This cute little bird, resplended in bright green and purple coloring was to be our carriage for the next two hours unfolding an entirely new perspective of the island.
After several minutes of standard pre-flight safety checks, we strapped in and prepare for take off. As the blades starting spinning, it was easy to imagine being in a James Bond movie as I donned my personal headset, enabling me to communicate clearing throughout the flight and allowing Captain Mike to share his expansive knowledge of the island’s most renowned and fascinating landmarks.
We began our circumnavigation of the island heading east, direction Philipsburg, flying at an altitude of 500ft and hugging the coastline from the air was a real eye-opener as you could clearly see the gargantuan labor of love that has gone into town over recent years with its numerous, diligently beautification projects. The new-look Front Street, the boardwalk and the AC Wathey Cruise Ship pier in Pointe Blanche have added immensely to Dutch side St Maarten’s attraction and seen from the air, it really is quite astounding how far we’ve come in just a few years.
Leaving town we continued anticlockwise round the island and for the first time since settling in St Maarten/St Martin I was finally able to see all 37 of the island beautiful beaches – a feat I have been trying to achieve since day one! In fact if you are here for a week, I guarantee this is the only way you will find time to see the entire island! There are also that are near impossible to access by car and its surprising to see how many little secretive coves and tiny private beaches the island hides.
Flying over Oyster Pond, the Marine nature reserve of La Galion beach and through out to world famous Orient Bay, the color of the water took my breath away. You could clearly see the numerous reefs surrounding the islands and we drop to 300ft and came in closer to the beach at Orient, of course we had quite and audience, as the entire population of sun-worshippers waved to us… probably thinking” I wish it was me”! a quick fly over the little gem of Pinel island and the desert-island of Tintamarre famed for it’s beautifying mud bath and we headed into the heart of the island for some stunning view of Loterie Farm and the verdant interior of the island. From the air the lush tropical jungle resembles acres of broccoli trees as my fellow passenger pointed out.
Throughout the flight, Captain Mike was communicating with air traffic – a small hand signal from him ensured all passengers remained silent while he regularly relayed our position and direction to the frequent friendly response of “Keep those blades spinning!”
Heading out of the jungle, it was back to the coastline and the traditional fishing village and gourmet capital of Grand Case with it’s pretty colored buildings and fishing boats anchored in the calm waters of Grand Case Bay, then on to the cosmopolitan French capital, Marigot. Like Philipsburg, Marigot from the air was dramatic with it’s impressive Marina Fort Louis, the striking design of le West Indies Shopping Mall and the open air market located at the seafront.
It was time to leave civilization once again and we continue at our steady “cruising” speed of 100 knots (115miles) to explore some of the most beautiful of St. Maarten/St. Martin coastline. The quite and peaceful area of Baie Rouge, Baie aux Prunes (Plum Bay) and the renowned Baie Longue (Long Bay) home to La Samanna - preferred retreat of the rich and famous. Unfortunately the super zoom of the camera did not spot any stars this day.
Our tour nearly over, the most impressive was yet to come as we fly by Simpson Bay Lagoon and the enormous brand new terminal at Princess Juliana International Airport, officially opened by Queen Beatrix of Holland on 10th November.
As we hovered gently back down unto the helipad at Port de Plaisance after this phenomenal tour, two things were for sure: My little boy had decided he was going to learn how to fly a helicopter…. And I have just fallen in love with St. Maarten/St. Martin all over again.
ABOUT LEEWARD ISLAND HELICOPTERS
It was a chanced meeting over dinner at Fishpot restaurant in Grand Case early 2006 that brought together the partners that established Leeward Island Helicopters making it a locally owned enterprise. Alfred Marsdin, fondly known to every one as “Churchill” (chief of Immigration at Princess Juliana Airport), Etienne ‘Toochi’ Meyers and Tuman ‘Pico’ Simmons are three of the partners who have racked up an amazing 79 years together in the St. Maarten police force. Then there’s managing director Briggete Marsdin and you’ve already met Captain Mike Huttenlocker, Pilot and Operation Manager.
Together, this team set out great objectives for the future of Leeward Island Helicopters which will render many essential services to the island. As well as the high demand for tour services for visitors and the local community alike, the company also serves to provide emergency (Medevac) air service to the surrounding islands and establish a unique incentive for many schools in St. Maarten, Angullia, Saba and Statia. This is a reward for the most improved students each trimester. Three times a year three lucky hard working students will be rewarded with a tour of the island.
“In the near future, we are aiming to establish a flight school in St. Maarten to produce qualified helicopters pilots in the region” states Captain Mike. “Leeward Island Helicopters has added yet another dimension to the enjoyment, safety and development of the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin.”
WANT TO FLY
Leeward Island Helicopters have two commercial ‘birds’. The Robinson R-44 which accommodates 3 passengers and 1 pilot for islands tours, and their Bo 105cbs Euro Copter which carries 5 passengers and the pilot for longer charter flights to the surrounding islands.
The island tour leaves from Port de Plaisance and the AC Wathey Cruise Ship Harbor for tours lasting 15-18 minutes (in which time you will circumnavigate the entire island!) the cost is $120pp. There is a weight limit of 250lbs per seat. Do NOT forget to take a camera! Even nervous passengers have a chance to decide whether they can overcome any vertigo issues as Captain Mike hovers for you for a few minutes to see if you’re still up for one of the greatest adventures of the island!
Printed in Destination magazine's 2007 issue
HOW TO BOOK
To book a tour by helicopter with Leeward Islands Helicopters and around the island with Captain Mike, call Karen via 526-4420 or call Terrance via 581-9740 to make reservations.
Or submit a reservation request online at http://www.airsxm.com/request.php and choose a "Private Charter" from "St. Maarten" to "St. Martin". We will know that you mean a helicopter tour of St. Maarten :-)
Call our office today to book.
You can dial the following numbers:
Locally (Dutch side): 526-4420 or 581-9740
From the French side: 00-599-526-4420 or 581-9740
From the USA or Canada: 011-599-526-4420 or 581-9740
Our office is located in Simpson Bay.
The address is: Welfare Road 119, Suite F.
Our HELICOPTER TOURS departs from the Simpson Bay area.