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Rainbow Helicopters receives HAI's Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service
When fires destroyed the town of Lahaina in Hawaii, Nicole Battjes was spurred into action. She and her team shopped for and ferried supplies over many weeks and the company is being recognised for its efforts.
Rainbow Helicopters owner and director of operations Nicole Battjes will be presented with The Humanitarian Service award during HAI Heli-Expo 2024.

Rainbow Helicopters is to receive the Helicopter Association International 2024 Salute to Excellence Humanitarian Service Award at February's HAI Heli-Expo in California. The award, sponsored by Sikorsky, honours the person or persons who best demonstrate the value of rotorcraft to the communities in which they operate by providing aid to those in need.

On 9 August, 2023, employees of Oahu, Hawaii-based Rainbow Helicopters woke to the devastating news that a fire had destroyed the town of Lahaina, Maui. They had an immediate and overwhelming desire to do something, anything, to help their greater Maui ohana - their Hawaiian family. Throughout the day, the Rainbow Helicopters team reached out to learn what was needed and the message was clear: people had left their homes with nothing, and mothers and babies in particular needed immediate assistance.

Having herself just given birth six weeks earlier, owner and director of operations Nicole Battjes dived into action. She sent her father-in-law and a Rainbow team member on a Costco run to buy as much formula, diapers, baby wipes and other supplies as could fit in an Airbus AS350. They spent over $4,000 and news spread among the rest of the team. People stayed on past their shifts, and others returned to volunteer their time to aid in the humanitarian effort. Mechanics ensured the helicopter was ready to fly, ground crew weighed loads, operations managers planned and oversaw loading, and pilots created the flight plan. On the morning of 11 August, the helicopter flew its first relief flight to Kapalua airport on Maui, as close to Lahaina as it could safely land.

Ground tour company volunteers met the helicopter with vans to unload and transport the supplies to families in need. The helicopter then flew to Maui's international airport in Kahului, where the team loaded more supplies that couldn't go by ground to Kapalua. During the flights, the team saw first hand Lahaina's complete destruction and the desperate need of its residents. They shared what they witnessed when they returned to Oahu, inspiring further action.

The Rainbow team established a GoFundMe account in the hope of raising $1,000 to purchase supplies for the Lahaina-area residents. All told, the account raised over $76,000, all of which was used to purchase items for families affected by the fire. Rainbow also established a base of operations for physical donations from around Oahu, and over the next several weeks the entire team donated hundreds of hours of off time to purchase, receive and catalogue supplies, package and weigh loads, load helicopters and fly relief missions.

"It took on a life of its own, and I was overwhelmed with pride in our team, our community and those making donations," says Battjes. "At one point, through our partnerships, we were receiving photographs of specific supplies individual families needed and our team members were volunteering their time to run to stores to get them and put them on the next flight. It took extra effort to drive around Oahu to find everything. It was really incredible to see people making this effort, and it was a feeling of hope during such a tragic time."

In those first several weeks, Rainbow flew 13 missions to Maui carrying more than 5,500lb of supplies, including 275 containers of formula, 175 cartons of diapers, 175 boxes of baby wipes and more than 19 gallons of breast milk. Castle & Cooke Aviation donated all the jet fuel and Rainbow covered the Avgas and aircraft for all the flights, which were flown in both R44 and AS350 helicopters.

To help with distribution, Rainbow partnered with several organisations, including Northwest Mothers Milk Bank in Tigard, Oregon and local non-profits Keiki O Ka 'Aina and Na 'Aikane o Maui, which helped distribute the supplies and forwarded specific requests from families.

Rainbow continued its efforts into the 2023 holiday season. Working with Keiki O Ka 'Aina, the company provided food, gifts and necessities to families in need. The operator also provided an aircraft to fly Santa Claus to Maui to deliver food, gifts and more supplies to children and spread holiday cheer.

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