Specialized helicopter used to combat beetle-infestation

January 19, 2017

By: Williams Lake Tribune

Aviation enthusiasts will be interested in catching a glimpse of the Kaman K-MAX 1200 aircraft at work heli-logging in and around the city for the next few weeks.

“It is a very specialized aircraft,” said Clint Sarver, who owns and operates Sarvair Aviation with his wife, Karen Sarver.

“I believe there are only three in Canada and this is one of them.”

The 108 Mile and Williams Lake-based company has leased the machine and its pilot and engineer as part of their sub-contract work for Sarver Wood Fibre, which is the main contractor hired by the Ministry of Forests to assist in combating the Douglas-fir beetle infestation in the forests around the lakecity this winter.

The K-Max 1200 is an American helicopter with intermeshing rotors and was specifically designed for heavy lifting. Sarver said the machine is capable of lifting 5,200 pounds of weight compared to Sarver’s two A-Star helicopters which can lift about 1,800 pounds each, and is needed due to the size of trees that are infested with beetles and earmarked for harvesting before the insects can spread in the spring.

Currently, the crew is working in the forest at the end of South Lakeside Drive where 2,000 trees have been identified for removal.

Sarver said the contract, which has the company heli-logging very close to residential and recreational areas around Williams Lake, has required much planning.

“It’s a lot of logistics, it’s mind-boggling really,” Sarver said. “I’m dealing with all regulatory bodies for aircraft and ground.”

But perhaps the most challenging part of the work has been human-related, Sarver said, noting he has had to stop residents from walking under the aircraft while it’s flying logs attached to a grapple.

“The toughest part has been people wanting to enter the work area. We have spotters everywhere watching.”

To keep the machine as light as possible, the pilot refuels the K-MAX in hourly cycles with about 350 litres of fuel. The pilot and engineer come with the machine and work eight hours per day for a two-week shift.

Himself a helicopter pilot, Sarver said it is focused work.

“After two weeks, you’re exhausted,” said Sarver, noting the work is not dangerous.

“It’s not high risk. Driving home to 100 Mile on the highway after a snowfall at night is high risk.”

Three of the four Sarver brothers – Norton, John, Clint and Madden – live at 108 Mile where they operate Sarver Wood Fibre, an Aboriginal family-run company.

“We’re loggers from a long time ago,” Clint said of his family.

“We grew up logging as many people around here did.”

Sarver said the helicopter logging being conducted in the Williams Lake area will have a smaller footprint than conventional logging.

“It has a lot less impact.”

Married 35 years, Sarver’s wife Karen and daughter Lana were also on the worksite Monday to work as spotters while their son, Landon, also works with the company.

“What I like about (the K-MAX 1200) is it’s so quiet,” she said.

The machine will be working in the area until the end of the month, but Sarver reminds residents to keep a safe distance away and not walk on forest trails while the helicopter is working.

By: Williams Lake Tribune

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