Getting to Know Greenland: Meet Flemming Bisgaard
By: Jodi Westrick
Contributed by Betsy Sanner Ayala
Flemming Bisgaard is the head of Bisgaard Trading in the heart of Ilulissat, Greenland right in Disko Bay. He has been a pilot for Air Greenland for over two decades and is one of about half a dozen specially designated pilots who fly the Sikorsky helicopter, which acts as an ambulance in the air.
For approximately six months out of the year he is on call for any emergency that may arise in all of Greenland. Last year when we were filming in Greenland, a very unfortunate event happened where four people were flown into Nuuk in a helicopter from Siorapaluk, which is over 1,000 miles away from Nuuk by air. Due to a terrible case of botulism from eating Kiviak, or auk birds preserved in the hollowed-out body of a seal, one elderly man died. The unknowingly bad Kiviak was then served at his funeral where it was eaten again, and his daughter died. Flemming and his fellow pilots are on call for such emergencies.
Flemming was also the head of operations for the Ice Cold Gold crew when we shot in Ilulissat, serving Josh Feldman and Eric Drummond.
1) Where are you from? How would you describe the town where you live?
I was born just a few hundred meters from the coast of the North Sea in a small fishing town called Jutland, Denmark. That’s probably why I had such a good feeling about Ilulissat, Greenland. I had my first job in Greenland in 1995 where I worked as an apprentice for a (black)smith. Soon after I started my helicopter pilot education, and was hired the year after on the Sikorsky helicopter in Ilulissat. I have been working 3 weeks on and 3 weeks off ever since.
The Town of Ilulissat is the most perfect and special place. Normally the weather is very good, and the sun shines almost 24 hours a day during the four summer months. There are a lot of fishing activities in Ilulissat with 4,500 citizens and about 3,000 dogs. All the sled dogs are used only for working. When it’s tourist season the town becomes very active with lots of cruise ships and many visitors.
2) What is most unique aspect of living life above the artic circle?
The weather changes very rapidly, and the people living here have to adapt which makes life rough sometimes. Although the town is surrounded by beauty, at the same time the environment can be very unfriendly.
3) What is something you do in your daily life that most Westerners might think is crazy?
I eat shrimp and herring in the morning, and mattak (raw whale skin) in the afternoon. In the summer, we can go fishing or take a sunbath at 3 A.M.
4) You own and operate Bisgaard Trading, a service that helps provide accommodations and travel to expeditions, including all their gear, to extremely remote places in Greenland. What’s the most logistically challenging job you have ever faced?
Paramount Pictures was here for the filming of a 150 million dollar movie (The Last Airbender). I was the main provider of helicopters, manpower, warehouses, heaters, containers, trucks, cars, snowmobiles, generators, tents, tables – basically everything they needed for 140 people. It was a lot of work.
5) You also have been a pilot for Air Greenland for many years and one of the select few who can fly the emergency Sikorsky. Tell us about the most intense or crazy rescues you have ever done.
For 21 years working for Air Greenland and flying more than 20,000 flights, I have had many experiences. Once of the most bizarre was when I was on landing a Sikorsky in Narsaq in South Greenland. We were coming in for a landing and I had to use the right foot pedal to land. Just as I was about to step down, I felt something under my foot and it was a cat! One of the passengers had a cat in a cage and it escaped and then jumped into the cockpit. We had no idea it was there until I stepped on it!
By the way, there is a huge raven hanging three feet away from me right now outside the big window in the The Harbor Room. It’s just hanging there steady even though there are very strong winds from the harbor. It’s a BIG bird!
6) You train in Dallas, Texas during the off-season – it seems like a place more suited would be Alaska. Why Texas?
The Bell 212 Simulator is in Texas, it’s one of the few places that has it, so that is why we go there. I flew that type of helicopter in Greenland for 5 years. We also do training for the Sikorsky in Norway every year. We go all over for training - the Dash pilots go to Toronto, and the Airbus pilots goes to France. The 212 is located at Flight Safety in Arlington, TX.
7) You risk your life daily flying in some of the most hazardous weather on earth – what scares a guy like you?
Well, bad weather, darkness, heavy winds and poor visibility are no problem, but I’ve had ice on the rotor blades and that is very scary.
8) During this season of Ice Cold Gold, what is the most memorable moment working with the miners of Sixty Degree Resources?
I was very, very surprised how tolerant they were regarding food, accommodations, and temperatures and also how positive everyone was.