Flying doctor's chopper grounded due to haze

Flying doctor's chopper grounded due to haze
PHOTO: AFP

KUCHING - The haze here has caused a helicopter for the state's flying doctor service to be grounded and the cancellation of several events in the city.

The helicopter - one of the three used in the service - has been grounded at the Kuching Interna­tional Airport since last Friday.

State Health Department director Dr Zulkifli Jantan said it was not cleared for flying after visibility plummeted to 500m at the airport.

"The pilot followed the Civil Aviation Department's advice not to fly," Dr Zulkifli told The Star yes­terday, denying a report by a local daily that the entire service had been suspended.

Layang Layang Aerospace Sdn Bhd, which operates the service in Sarawak and Sabah, said its helicopters in Sibu and Miri continued to operate daily.

"We are still operating as usual except for the helicopter which has been grounded," said its chief pilot Capt Irwin Menezes, who is also the operations manager.

"I understand some commercial fights have missed approaches because they could not see the runway clearly. So, it's very bad at the moment," said Menezes, adding that Layang Layang would like to resume operations as soon as possible.

"Once the winds change direction, visibility will improve. Then, we can start. We fly to very crucial areas but if you can't see the ground clearly, then it's very risky."

The flying doctor services rural Sarawak where there is no access to roads, visiting up to 100 settlements each month.

As at 4pm yesterday, visibility in Kuching was only 700m while the Air Pollutant Index (API) reading was 119.

Over at Samarahan, a suburb about 10km away, the API was 123. In Sri Aman, 160km from here, it was 106.

All other areas in Sarawak had API readings within the moderate range.

Kuching City officials said they would close recreational parks if the API breached the very unhealthy 201 mark.

Kuching North City Hall mayor Datuk Abang Abdul Wahap Abang Julai said sealing off public parks was a possibility "to prevent unforeseen circumstances".

The City Hall, he added, had already called off a public aerobics event.

Other cancelled activities were a charity run by the Sarawak Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was postponed yesterday to Oct 25, and a monthly gathering by the Urban Sketchers Group, originally to be held at City Hall's Orchid Park.

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