Phurpa Lhamo 

At the National Day celebration yesterday in Thimphu, the Druk Thuksey medal was conferred to Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited (RBHSL) in recognition of its exceptional service to the Nation since its inception and especially during the pandemic. It made critical medical care accessible to every Bhutanese and facilitated the nationwide distribution of Covid-19 vaccines. RBHSL transported 67,950 Covid-19 vaccines for the nationwide vaccination programme. 

With more than 15,000 safe landings taken in the last six years,  RBHSL has saved lives, transported vaccines and ensured connectivity. 

In a collage of RBHSL’s Facebook newsfeed, the two choppers are seen reaching polling officials to Lingzhi for elections; transporting rural electrification and telecom materials to remote places in Gasa; and evacuating a 68-year-old woman from Paro. 

RBHSL’s chief executive officer (CEO), Chewang Gyeltshen, said that the award was unexpected. “We are surprised and humbled to receive such a prestigious award from His Majesty.”

RBHSL was established on 9 July 2015. Its commercial operations commenced in November that year coinciding with the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. 

RBHSL operates a fleet of two H130 Airbus helicopters and employs 40 staff. It operates the HELI Emergency Services, which include Emergency Medical Services, Firefighting and Casualty evacuations, and the HELI Charter Services for passenger and cargo transport. 

In November 2015, RBHSL received its first chopper, an Airbus H130. The second was received in 2016. 

On February 12 that year, RBHSL took its first fire-fighting mission at Sangaygang where the choppers aided the firefighters making several rounds over the fire to drop more than 700 litres of water each time.

As of date, RBHSL had taken up 28 firefighting missions. 

By June 2018, the two choppers made more than 1,170 flights reaching about 300 destinations. Of the total flights then, more than 440 were emergency medical evacuations. Thus far, it has evacuated 735 people for emergency medical services. 

 A chopper was also used to help a woman from Khamdang, Trashiyangtse to give birth to twins in 2017. Similarly, a 46-year-old woman, who was gored by a buffalo, was airlifted to the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital. 

When one of the worst tragedies killed 10 Layaps in Gasa, the helicopters played a crucial role in rescuing the injured. 

After the rescue, a doctor at the emergency department said that the injured were evacuated right on time and reached the hospital before their conditions worsened. “It would have been a different story if it wasn’t for the helicopter assistance because the nearest health facility is several hours from the accident site.”

CEO Chewang Gyeltshen said that coordinating with external agencies, mountainous terrain and weather has been a challenge in providing services to the people.

 While income generation from the RBHSL has been affected immensely due to the pandemic, the choppers continue to play an important role in the lives of the highlanders. 

In Lunana, Gasa, when the routes close due to heavy snowfall, helicopters are used to ferry rations back home.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, a village tshogpa said chopper service is the most beneficial among the development activities that happened in Lunana.

Today, in addition to receiving the Druk Thuksey medal, RBHSL team of 40 staff remain proud of its zero-accident record. 

“Receiving Druk Thuksey itself is an achievement,” said CEO Chewang Gyeltshen.

“The prestigious award gives us the responsibility. Further, we will try to deliver more and serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum through the helicopter services.”