Bernd Van Doornick was born in East Berlin on January 5, 1945 but grew up with his family in Grenchen (Canton Solothurn/Switzerland) where he attended kindergarten and compulsory school.
At the age of 8 he started building paper model planes and then at the age of 12 he passed to the first RC-models.
Between 1960 and 1964 he did an apprenticeship as a tool and die maker.
At that time he sat at the controls of an aircraft for the first time. In 1962 he obtained his glider pilot's license flying a Rhönlerche KA-8.
At the end of his apprenticeship he wanted to become a military pilot, but his application was refused, so he continued to work as a toolmaker for a few years in Switzerland, after which in 1968 he decided to move to Montreal (Canada) with the intention to know a new culture, increase his knowledges and of course to obtain a commercial helicopter pilot licence!
There he found a job as a toolmaker at a factory named Eastern Mould and Die Co. Ltd.
Start of the helicopter pilot career
Bernd began his incredible career as a helicopter pilot in September 1969. In December he earned his commercial license at Caledon Helicopter Ltd. based in Orangeville, Ontario.
The 100 hours pilot training course cost him CHF 24,000. "Since my savings weren't enough, I got a second job as a bartender from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m.!".
At the end of his training he was lucky enough to find a job as a commercial helicopter pilot on behalf of Dominion Pegasus Helicopters. At the controls of a Bell 47 he began to transport groups of geologists with their equipment in search of gold, lead, tin or oilfield. In a short time he logged about 900 hours of flight time. In the meantime he started the transportation of building material and equipment for the construction of a 2,000 km-long 750 kV power line.
Thanks to these flights and others such as aerial patrolling of power lines and rescue flights at the controls of Bell 47 and 206 Jet Ranger, he quickly logged many hours of flight.
Between 1973 and 1976 Bernd worked on behalf of another Canadian helicopter company, Trans North Turbo Air (TNTA), founded in spring 1967 by Gordon Davis, Ron Connelly, Al Kapty and Chuck Hankins.
At that time the company had 10 bases scattered all over the world and a dozen of helicopters in the Yukon region.
In order to acquire the necessary knowledges to carry out transportation activities at high altitude while working at TNTA he did a special pilot training course during which he did landings up to 4,400 meters (14,500 ft).
On behalf of this company he performed many commercial flights for the transportation of material and equipment in mountainous regions.
In 1973 during a rescue he miraculously survived an accident after the main rotor of the Bell 47 he was flying hit some rocks. The aircraft crashed and then caught fire and ended up completely destroyed.
Return to Switzerland
Bernd returned to Switzerland every year to visit his family. It was in one of those occasions that one of his friends suggested him to become a Swiss Air-Rescue Guard pilot. "Why not?" he said, and so he asked for a meeting with the then SARG (nowadays REGA) director Fritz Bühler.
Considered Bernd’s flying experience especially as a mountain helicopter pilot in the Rocky Mountains region the latter proposed him to contact Air Zermatt where his flying experience would certainly have been much appreciated.
After about 5,400 hours at the controls of helicopters (2,000 hours in Eastern Canada, and the rest in the Rocky Mountains region, British Columbia, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Alaska) in March 1976 Air Zermatt hired him as a helicopter pilot.
After being introduced to the piloting of the SA 3160 Alouette 3 and SA 315B Lama he started an intense flight activity. From that moment on, thanks also to the training and tips received from the highly experienced pilots Sigi Stangier and Toni Lötscher he further expanded his knowledge and soon became a great expert of the territory surrounding the most famous mountain in Switzerland, the Matterhorn.
In Valais at the time, many works were under construction, such as new ski lifts, huts, power lines, aqueducts and avalanche protection. Bernd carried out tens of thousands of round trips or rotations as commonly known (about 370,000 at the end of his activity!) for the transportation of building materials.
In 1978 Bernd introduced at Air Zermatt the use of the vertical reference (bubble window).
In 1980 he became chief-pilot at the base of Raron.
High altitude mishap
On April 8, 1981 after depositing a group of skiers on the top of the Ebnefluh (a mountain located on the border between the Swiss cantons of Bern and Valais) Bernd took off to return to the village of Mörel when suddenly the SA 315B Lama HB-XII he was flying was shaken by strong vibrations. Thanks to a few skillful maneuvers he was able to avoid a collision with the mountain relief.
Shortly afterwards Bernd, who already had more than 8,100 hours of flight time to his credit, including more than 3,500 hours on the SA 315B Lama, landed at the foot of the Oberaletsch glacier at an altitude of 2,350 meters (7,710 ft).
The accident was caused by the rupture of the stabilizer support which then severely smashed the tail rotor blades.
The helicopter suffered damages to the stabilizer, the rear of the pylon, the tail rotor and the landing gear, but fortunately he escaped unscathed from the mishap.
In total, due to technical problems, he made 5 emergency landings (2 in Canada and 3 in Switzerland).
On behalf of the Valaisan company, he carried out all kinds of missions, including difficult rescue missions at night or in unfavorable weather conditions along the walls of the Matterhorn and other Valaisan peaks at over 4,000 meters. "In addition to the changing weather conditions and the wind, another danger during operations near the almost vertical walls is the sudden fall of stones" he recalls.
Many people owe him their lives for his rescue missions. According to his logbooks he saved the life of 136 people in the Matterhorn region.
Altogether he has completed 5,460 rescue missions in his career.
On September 14, 1982 while performing commercial transportation of building material over the village of Visperterminen, the pilot reached 10,000 hours of flight.
Air Zermatt director Beat Perren and board member Gottlieb Perren along with the Swiss television waited for him in Giw to personally congratulate.
The challenge launched for the "Wetten dass?" (Let's bet?) TV show dates back to that time (1985). At the controls of a SA 315B Lama in a few minutes he uncorked a bottle of wine with a corkscrew mounted on a skid and filled four glasses live in front of millions of viewers. A fine test of precision and nerves of steel!
Far from being tired of spending many hours in the air in 1983 he also obtained the airplane pilot license.
In 1986 Air Zermatt bought a Bell 412 (HB-XRP) and therefore he went to the United States for a technical course on this model and on the Bell 222.
In 1989 the Valais company bought an SA 330J Puma and Bernd went to Marignane to acquire the necessary knowledge on this model which remained in service with the company until 1996.
Air Glaciers pilot
In 1992 Bernd left Air Zermatt and went to work for Air Glaciers continuing his intense activity as a commercial pilot mainly at the controls of the SA 315B Lama, a helicopter he knows very well since he had logged 14,300 hours on this aircraft!
It is at the controls of the Lama with the colors of Air Glaciers that many helicopter fans admired him in action during the various aviation meetings. His last performance took place on September 1, 2007 in Bex. In an interview he confesses that he also did a looping with a Lama... but smiling he says he will never reveal where or when.
October 28, 2007 was certainly a day full of emotion. That was his last day of work as a helicopter commercial pilot.
At the end of the day he went to church to pray for his many fellow pilots who lost their lives in aviation accidents (over thirty!) and thank God for always protecting him.
To celebrate the retirement and underline his incredible achievement Air Glaciers organized on November 5 a party in Sion where his colleagues and close friends were present.
At that time his flight books attested more than 24,000 hours of flight time at the controls of various types of helicopters mainly on Bell 206 Jet Ranger (over 4,200h), Bell 47 (1,100h), Bell 412SP (2,070h), SA 3160/319 Alouette 3 (over 1,500h), SA 315B Lama (14,300h), SA 330J Puma (about 1,000h).
In addition to the above mentioned models, he obtained the type-rating to fly the SA 341/342 Gazelle (108 h) and the AS 350 Ecureuil (B1, B2 and B3 173 h) as well as the airplanes DM 400, TB10 and Cessna 150.
During his very long career which lasted almost fifty years he had four turbine failures and some accidents from which he came out unharmed.
The return to Canada
In 2008 Bernd Van Doornick settled in La Tuque, a small town in the province of Quebec, in the Mauricie region where he still lives today and where his adventure began over fifty years ago. Here he has carved out what he calls his corner of Paradise. He bought a house in which he built a hangar for his C-GBVD registered Robinson R-44 Raven I. At 75 years his passion for helicopters has certainly not ceased!
Today, of course, he no longer flies with long and stressful work schedules and rhythms. He does it only for pleasure and fun, flying over beautiful landscapes. From time to time he makes himself available during Christmas time to transport Santa Claus and surprise the children or he attends local airshows during which he has the opportunity to show his skills.
A great lover of animals in his spare time, he cultivates his favorite hobbies such as photography and hiking in nature, while in the past he occupied his free time with airplane model making, restoration of old cars, and sports.
From time to time he returns to Switzerland to visit friends and family members as well as former work colleagues.
Bernd Van Doornick has had an extraordinary aviation career, marked by a keen and deep passion for the rotary-wing, therefore… châpeau Bernd!
Here are some footage from the web showing Bernd Van Doornick in action at the controls of the SA 315B Lama...
In action at Tracouet in summer 2002: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDzEa9R9H-E
Transportation of concrete for the costruction of a power line: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoJTFjerhd8
Demo during the airshow in Bex in 2007: www.youtube.com/watch