Bernadette’s Take on
René Huessy from Niagara Falls
A Swiss-Canadian Highflier
When you travel to Canada, you don’t want necessarily to meet Swiss people.
But in some places, you cannot avoid them. At Niagara Falls, for instance. No chance. Everybody goes to see the falls.
Even, if you, for some strange reason, would not meet Swiss tourists on the boat that takes you to the falls, you probably will meet them if you take a flight with the helicopter over the falls. (Which you should. It is spectac-ular. I vouch for it – I have done it.)
Your helicopter pilot might just be Swiss, from the town of Sedrun in the canton Graubünden.
René Huessy came to Canada when he was 25 years old. He always wanted to be a helicopter pilot for the legendary Swiss Air-Rescue REGA. That was the original plan. But René had connections to Canada.
His family was involved with Niagara Helicopters Ltd., a company that mainly flies tourists over the Niagara Falls. The business was previously owned by an-other Swiss (they are everywhere!!), Rudi Hafen.
That is why René did his Canadian licence in Toronto. He wanted to stay for three years and then return to Switzerland. Now, it has been 10 years already, and René has a Canadian wife and a two-year-old and ten-year-old son.
“I like the Niagara region with its lakes and beaches”, he says, “it is very livable and the lifestyle is good.”
In these ten years, René has not only learnt to fly a helicopter. He has also learnt the rope of the business: the operation, all about insurance, fuel, Transport Canada, charter flights, scheduling, pilots and so on.
When owner Ruedi Hafen retired three years ago, Niagara Helicopters was bought by Helicopter Transport Services, the biggest privately owned helicopter company in North America.
The flights with tourists over the Niagara Falls is about 80 per cent of the company`s business. About 15 per cent are charter flights.
And sometimes, the pilots do flights that you probably have never heard of.
“We fly above vineyards to keep the grapes from freezing, mainly in the fall and in the spring”, René says. “The helicopters help to move the air around the grapes so the air does not stay. We are basically a huge windmill.”
And René can also do rescue flights which are basically air lifts for Search & and Rescue. They rescue mainly tourists who are hurt while hiking in the gorge behind the falls and get stranded.
“There are trails in the canyon below the falls, along the Niagara River, and some tourists don`t have the right shoes or equipment to hike there”, René says.
Did he also have to rescue people who plunged into the falls? “Yes, but they were not alive anymore”, René says.
“Yesterday, somebody committed suicide and jumped into the falls. We go and fish the bodies out the water.”
For these sad cases, the helicopter pi-lots do training with the Niagara Parks Police officers on a regular basis.
Luckily, there are flights that are more pleasurable. René’s favourite is the 350-mile-flight to Muskokas country which is also called “The 30 000 Island Region”.
René had to pick up a costumer for a charter flight in Toronto and fly him there.
So what about his dream being a pilot for Swiss Air-Rescue REGA? René is not really tempted anymore. “I love to work for my company”, he says. “It is a really nice job and I am always home at the end of the day.”
But he must have seen the Niagara Falls hundreds of times by now!
This does not faze René, no, no, no.
“I always get goose bumps when I start up the engine”, he says. “When I go on vacation, I am craving to go back to flying.”
Well, his next vacation will be in December in Switzerland. René wants to go skiing. That is sometimes a kind of flying, too. And maybe there might be even some falls involved…
Here is the CanSwiss Quiz with René Huessy:
What gift do you bring home from Switzerland?
What Swiss products do you miss most in Canada?
Rivella (soft drink) and good baked bread.
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Swiss men or women?
Work ethic, education, dependability
Which are the 3 qualities you cherish most in Canadian men or women?
Open-minded, forthcoming, independent
What triggered a culture shock for you in Switzerland or Canada (in one sentence, please)?
No culture shock set in yet …
Which Canadian or Swiss personality fascinates you?
– Canadian Chris Hadfield (astronaut)
– Swiss Peter Sauber, an entrepreneur known as the owner of various motor-sports teams
Have a look at the website www.niagarahelicopters.com