Helicopters aren’t exactly the safest vehicles in the world and Russia doesn’t have the best track record for air safety. But I was never going to say no to flying in a helicopter over the Olympic stadiums.
A driver came to collect me from my hotel at 8am. It was technically a ten minute drive to the helipad but we left plenty of time before take-off to get there. An hour of driving later and we still hadn’t got there. The driver was an official driver from the company I’m working for, so you’d expect him to know where he was going. Nope. He only spoke Russian and didn’t have a clue where the helipad was. What made matters worse is no-one else knew where it was either. We stopped to ask people, I called the mountain media centre. No-one had even heard of it. It was starting to feel all too familiar – like my nightmare journey getting to Sochi on the first day.
We drove around in circles, up the mountain, through security check points and back again. The driver was getting increasingly frustrated, as was I. Eventually my boss rang back with directions, but I had no way of translating them to my Russian driver. So, I rang my Russian flatmate Julia and she tried to help, but the directions just led to a dead end.
After an hour of searching, we were coming back down the mountain when I spotted a helicopter on the other side of the river. “There, there!” I yelled, prodding the driver on the shoulder. It turned out you had to cross the river, drive through a children’s playground, through a gate with a padlock on into a field of horses, through another gate and there on a patch of muddy snow was the helicopter. No wonder no one knew where it was.
It was a beautifully clear day, the sun had just risen as we climbed into the helicopter. We strapped in, pulled the headphones on and it slowly began to rise into the air. We flew over the Biathlon stadium followed by the Extreme Park. You could just about make out the tiny specks who were snowboarders hucking flips off the kickers below.
The flight itself was amazing. There were four of us inside the helicopter, two Russian pilots who liked to joke around (worrying), a camera man and me. They were filming the Games from above, so the camera man sat in the helicopter controlling the joysticks.
There’s a strange gravitational effect I noticed while I was up there. When the helicopter descends quickly, it’s almost as though it leaves gravity behind. So my heavy camera felt weightless for a few second before the weight returned.
The camera man asked the driver to fly over the Sanki Sliding Centre where the bobsleigh, luge and skeleton takes place. He decided to follow the track in the helicopter which meant serious amounts of swerving from side to side. Two hours later and we were back on the ground once more. Luckily, in one piece.