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Flying Dutchmen from Split

By Cpl. Sébastien Pisani
First published in
SFOR Informer#110, April 4, 2001

Split (Croatia) - "The Adriatic coast has a huge advantage in comparison to Sarajevo or Banja Luka: there is QGO* only twice per year on average because of the bad weather." Capt. Ronald Gillesse's gaze focuses on Ciovo Island, which shields Divulje Barracks from the swell of the open sea. "That's the reason why our heliport is a good starting point for BiH and more precisely for all the Multinational Division - Southwest (MND-SW), of which we are a member."
Dutch Cougars are parked on the seaplane launching pad of the former Yugoslavian Army beside MI 8 with a chequered flag. "We share that place with the Croatian Army. We are on good neighbourly terms with them," Gillesse said.
The helicopter detachment (Helidet) of Split is made up of 160 men from eight squadrons of the Dutch Air Force. Arriving in the theatre Dec. 10, 2000, they relieved Brits and they are now carrying out an eight-month medical support and transport mission since Jan. 1.
"The relief time has been very exciting. Just four days after our arrival, we took part in our first operation with the Brits. At the same time, we had to settle in. Today we occupy 10 buildings, whereas we just had three or four buildings at our disposal at the beginning of the year. There was hardly a bed for each person," said Lt. Col. Bart Hoitink, Dutch detachment's commander.
The Dutch provide medical support for MND-SW with five AS 532 U2 Cougar helicopters, among which one is permanently detached on the British Camp of Sipovo. "This is our main mission. Our helicopter in Sipovo is on alert 24 hours a day. We work over there in collaboration with the Immediate Response Team (IRT)," Hoitink said.
The aircraft is ready to take off in 45 minutes for any point of the MND-SW with a full team of physicians and nurses on board. The Cougar is able to transport two seriously injured persons. "We are able to send our helicopters from Split directly to evacuate casualties, but in an extra 30 minutes we can get an additional medical team from Sipovo on board as well," Hoitink said. With that plan of action SFOR soldiers in operation are sure to get picked up quickly if they need to be.
"Some instructors came specially from Netherlands to train our loadmasters with the winch handling. That equipment allows very precise intervention. If an armoured vehicle is damaged on a supposed mine field, for example, rescuers can be directly landed on the vehicle roof," Gillesse said. Once the loadmasters’ formation will end, the helicopter of Sipovo will be equipped with a winch, which guarantees casualties and medical team security.
There are also 10 Romanian fire-fighters at Split heliport. "We have been trained by the Dutch. With our four fellow countrymen working on refueling, we take part in daily activities. We hope we can keep that kind of job back in Romania," said Staff Sgt. Eduard Florea.
The Dutch detachment sometimes works in co-operation with Split international airport located several hundred metres from the heliport. With civilian equipment of that airport, landings are possible whatever the weather conditions may be. The rare clouds of the Adriatic Coast can't stop the flying Dutchmen of Split accomplishing their missions.

*International aeronautical code: airport is closed because of bad weather conditions.

Related links:
Training and Exercises
Nations of SFOR: Netherland, Romania