A team of Canadian engineers have been working around the clock at a private helipad in the Sunshine Coast hinterland to assemble a Bell 214 waterbomber ahead of what is expected to be worsening fire conditions over summer.
Team leader Garth Ramsay has brought four men with him to help rebuild the aircraft so it can be deployed to a bushfire at a moment’s notice.
He said the Bell 214 is one of the best in the business and a second aircraft is set to arrive in the next 10 days.
“It’s called the ‘big lifter’, primarily used for firefighting,” Mr Ramsay said.
“It comes from Eastern Canada where it was disassembled only three days ago and put on a 747 freighter and shipped here and now we’re in the process of putting it together so we can go help out with some of these catastrophic fires.”
The aircraft will be added to Queensland’s fleet of aerial artillery, being sourced from 40 private contracting companies across the state.
An emotional Mr Ramsay — an aviation engineer of 20 years — said seeing footage of the blazes that devastated parts of Queensland and New South Wales over the last month was distressing.
“It was difficult to watch actually … excuse me,” he said, fighting back tears.
“Especially being 12,000 kilometres away, it was good to get on a plane and come down here and help out.”
Mr Ramsay and his team will spend the next month in Australia maintaining aircraft deployed to fire zones.
Chopper crews only had one month off all year
At the height of the bushfire emergency, 40 aircraft were in the air on a single day, working non-stop as more than 80 fires burned across Queensland.
The helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft were being sourced from across the country, including McDermott Aviation on the Sunshine Coast, which commissioned the Canadian aircraft.
Operations manager Simon McDermott said his crews only had one month’s reprieve from firefighting duties all year.
“It’s been a bit of a perfect storm really, every region of every state’s burning at the same time, which is really unheard of,” he said.
A Sunshine Coast pilot is already back in the air fighting fires after a close call near Pechey, on the Darling Downs, a week ago.
Experienced pilot David Williamson’s Bell 214 crash-landed while fighting a bushfire.
Mr McDermott said Mr Williamson was their longest-serving pilot, having flown with the company for 30 years.
“He’s been back at it [fighting bushfires] since Monday and can’t understand what all the fuss is about,” Mr McDermott said.
“We were relieved to learn he wasn’t seriously injured.”
Mr McDermott said it was difficult work but it was making all the difference on the fire fronts.
“It does get tiring after a while because it is in hot conditions, but we manage it as best we can,” he said.
“It’s a marathon with sprints in between and it’s certainly playing out like that at the moment.”