March 11, 2008, was a not-to-be-forgotten date in the annals of United Arab Emirates motoring history. That day, 250 cars were involved in a pile-up on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai road just outside Ghantoot, about 30 miles from Dubai. Despite the thick fog that had drifted in from the Gulf, motorists apparently made little or no attempt to moderate their speed, and mayhem was the result. Abu Dhabi Police helicopter pilot Major Hammad Al Kitbi arrived on the scene to find devastation.
“We arrived after the fog lifted. There were a lot of injuries. We were working with other police who had arrived by car earlier,” he told AIN. “We had two helicopters respond, including mine, and took eight of the seriously injured to hospital.”
Immediate airborne response was not possible because the police helicopters were not equipped to operate in fog under UAE General Civil Aviation Authority rules. A week earlier, similar conditions had forced many scheduled airline flights to divert in the Gulf region.
Last year the Abu Dhabi Police Air Wing flew 18 search-and-rescue missions (eight onshore and 10 offshore). “This can involve life-saving when a boat is sinking,” said Major Al Kitbi, a senior pilot who flies an AgustaWestland AW139 (on display at Air Expo) equipped for search-and-rescue with night vision and radar.
Founded in 1997, the Air Wing today flies five Bell 412s and eight AW139s on search-and-rescue and EMS missions and UAE-wide highway patrols. It employs 45 pilots, and another 20 are undergoing training.
Last year the Air Wing flew 146 air-ambulance missions, 391 police patrols and 678 training flights. Although based in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Air Wing operates throughout the country. “We cover all of the UAE,” said Major Al Kitbi, who flies more than 1,500 hours a year covering the 300-mile-long country.
The Air Wing also contributes to weather and communication, aerial surveillance and security planning and documentation, as well as organization of special events such as races and rallies, where high-speed tracking is required and monitoring is difficult, such as boat, car, camel and horse races.