Some 300km north of Scotland, the Faroe Islands archipelago is spread across 18 mountainous islands served by a hardy helicopter crew who are on hand to save stranded sailors and livestock alike.
Denmark’s self-governing Faroe Islands are home to a population of 70,000 sheep that outnumbers its 50,000 humans. When helicopter captain Hans Erik Jakobsen isn’t busy lowering a sling to retrieve errant livestock, he spends his days flying passengers to the most remote corners of the territory and leading life-saving expeditions.
This is part and parcel of managing a duo of two Italian-manufactured Leonardo aw139 choppers (owned by national carrier Atlantic Airways) and heading a team of seven pilots, who undergo special training to weather the the region’s tempestuous conditions. “It’s about as extreme as it gets here,” says Jakobsen.
Supported by 11 heliports, the Faroe Islands helicopters hop between the isolated spots that aren’t yet linked by the under-sea tunnels that connect the island group’s main land masses. The commuter rides are backed by generous government subsidies and are designed to serve even the smallest of settlements, some of which are inhabited by as few as five people.
But it is the airline’s search-and-rescue services that give Jakobsen a real sense of purpose. “It’s the best part of my job,” he says. The crew includes rescue swimmers who are experienced sea divers and respond to more than 100 calls every year. They offer help to sailors in distress, rescue injured hikers and transport sick patients to the nearest hospital.
Jakobsen is proud of a 30-year career spent preserving communities and saving lives. “It’s an extremely challenging job,” says Jakobsen. “But that’s what I love about it.”
A native Faroe Islander, Jakobsen has operated offshore and inland helicopter services across the globe, from Greenland to Iran and Qatar. He’s been looking after Atlantic Airways’ helicopter division for the past 30 years and has personally recruited every pilot and rescuer on his current staff.
Captain: “Dreamed of becoming a pilot since childhood.”
Chief pilot: “Used to fly in Yemen; one of the last to leave before things turned nasty.”
Handling & rescuer: “Has saved pilots a number of times when the weather is harsh.”
Handling & rescuer: “When not saving lives, busy raising dogs for sheep herding.”
David Sand Davidsen
Engineer & rescuer: “Also a licensed engineer, looking after the firm’s Airbus jets.”
Bjørn Sjúrður Patursson
Engineer: “Doing a four-year apprenticeship.”
Engineer: “Carries out major helicopter maintenance.”
Customer service agent: “Like family; her father takes care of security.”
Customer service agent: “Takes care of check-in and cargo on passenger routes.”