Oris Limited Edition Celebrates Okavango Air Rescue Anniversary
Oris marks the 10th anniversary of Botswana’s aeromedical rescue organization – Okavango Air Rescue – with a limited-edition version of the Big Crown ProPilot that’s inspired by nature.
Imagine looking at a map of Africa for a place where you can make a difference. With its huge geographic and demographic diversity, how would you ever decide where to go?
This was the question Swiss entrepreneur Christian Gross and German-born Dr. Misha S. Kruck answered for themselves in 2011 when they founded the aeromedical rescue organization Okavango Air Rescue (O.A.R.) in Botswana to service a sparsely populated country with lots of remote communities.
The couple had complementary experience. Christian was a conservationist as well as a businessman and had already established environmental organizations such as Animal Management Consultancy and the Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife.
Misha had vast medical experience and had worked all over the world, including during stints at International Red Cross and Rega, the Swiss air rescue service. They moved to Botswana in 2011 and set up O.A.R., a privately-owned and independently funded service that operates helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, as well as a polyclinic, to bring quality medical care to locals and tourists visiting the country.
Oris is delighted to announce a partnership with O.A.R., and a new watch made to celebrate the service’s 10th anniversary. We continue to be passionate about organizations that bring Change for the Better – and about air rescue services. O.A.R. joins Rega and the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia on our list of partner aeromedical organizations.
The new watch is based on the Oris Big Crown ProPilot. Its green dial is inspired by the grasses of the Okavango Delta, and it comes on an exclusive green fabric strap created by Erika’s Originals.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of nature’s miracles and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Okavango Air Rescue’s service covers the area and beyond.
It’s one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa, covers a flat area of more than 20,000 km2, and in 2014, it became the 1,000th site to be inscribed onto the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Botswana’s Okavango Delta is one of the most spectacular sites on Earth. The delta, which is made up of grasslands, marshes, lagoons and thousands of islands, is produced by seasonal flooding, peaking between June and August, Botswana’s dry winter months. During this period, it swells to three times its normal size, causing one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of wildlife.
Botswana is home to the ‘Big Five’ game animals: the lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant, and rhinoceros. Together with giraffe, hippos, cheetah, crocodiles, and many other species, they make the Okavango Delta one of Africa’s most popular tourist destinations.
Almost as diverse is the human population, which is made up of five ethnic groups, each of which has its own language. In the main, their livelihood comes from the delta.
Until the Okavango Air Rescue (O.A.R.) was established in 2011, the area was not serviced by an aeromedical organization. Local people and tourists requiring medical evacuation from remote areas had to wait for aircraft to arrive from neighboring South Africa.
Today, O.A.R. covers the delta area and the Southern African continent, flying two PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft and two Bell Jetranger 206 III helicopters. Visitors to the country are encouraged to take up a ‘patronage,’ a contribution that helps the organization continue its mission. O.A.R. asks for a minimum of 150 pula, around $15 (US), an annual figure that’s roughly equivalent to buying a can of Coke once a month. The successful system was developed by Switzerland’s Rega air rescue service.
In an emergency, O.A.R. will send a medically equipped helicopter and an emergency doctor to rescue patrons – and non-patrons. Any charges are considered later, usually through an insurance company. If those rescued don’t have insurance and can’t afford to pay, O.A.R. waives the cost.
When Christian Gross and Dr. Misha S. Kruck saw how poor medical provision was in remote areas of Botswana, they acted. Here they tell the story of Okavango Air Rescue.
ORIS: Christian, Misha, introduce yourselves.
MK: My name is Dr. Misha S. Kruck. I’m originally from Germany but moved to Switzerland to specialize in anesthesiology, intensive care and emergency medicine. I’ve worked for International Red Cross and the Swiss air rescue service, Rega.
CG: I’m Christian Gross, a Swiss entrepreneur. I wanted to be a vet but went into business. My passions often combine, for example in the Animal Management Consultancy I founded in 1988 in the United Arab Emirates.
ORIS: How did you meet?
MK: On a flight from Switzerland to Spain in 2008. For a while, we were in a ‘long-distance’ relationship between Dubai and Switzerland, but after two years we decided we wanted to start a new chapter together. We were both independent and looking for a change. We decided we wanted to bring our professions and passions together, marrying medicine and conservation.
CG: Africa was Misha’s idea. We moved to Botswana in 2011. The Okavango Delta is well known for conservation, but we identified that the area’s medical infrastructure needed modernizing. So, we founded Okavango Air Rescue (O.A.R.). In the 10 years since, it’s grown hugely – but not without challenges!
ORIS: Tell us more about O.A.R.
MK: O.A.R. is based in Botswana and headquartered in Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. The team’s made up of doctors, pilots, nurses, paramedics, and administration staff. Some are from Botswana, but we have guys from all over the world. It started as a medical service provider specializing in emergencies and airborne evacuations. But it’s grown into a provider of general medicine. We operate two Pilatus PC-12 fixed-wing aircraft and two Bell Jetranger 206 III helicopters and run a polyclinic.
ORIS: Was it easy to set up?
CG: No! We were hugely enthusiastic and had this great vision, but if we’re honest, if we’d known in advance what a bureaucratic nightmare it was going to be, we might have chosen a different path! But it’s been enormously rewarding.
ORIS: How is it funded?
MK: We always wanted the service to be financially independent, to fund itself, without relying on government support or donations. So, we run a patronage system that makes the service affordable to all, especially the local population, and allows foreigners who may be wealthier to make larger contributions. We don’t take salaries and it’s set up so that when we retire, it can continue without us.
ORIS: How does the patronage system work?
CG: The patronage asks for a minimum contribution of 150 pula, approximately $15 or the equivalent of one can of Coca Cola per month. It’s valid for 12 months. The patronage guarantees evacuation out of the bush at no extra cost to the patient, unless they have insurance.
ORIS: How large is the area O.A.R. covers?
MK: O.A.R. covers the whole of the Southern African continent with its PC-12 aircraft. With eight of its helicopters, O.A.R. purely operates within Botswana, which is the size of France and Belgium together. From Maun, O.A.R. covers the Okavango Delta, which is roughly the size of Switzerland.
ORIS: What challenges does that pose?
CG: We are in a relatively unorganized environment and all rescues are based on ‘finding a solution.’ Phone and internet connections are sometimes poor, and flight permissions in the neighboring countries often take undue time to be granted. With the helicopters, we often must search for the patients as the coordinates we receive are normally inaccurate, or the spot isn’t suitable for a landing. A big challenge is also dealing with insurance companies that don’t understand “the bush.”
What difference has O.A.R. made?
MK: We’ve now flown more than 1,500 critical patients and looked after more than 20,000 patients in our polyclinic. Before O.A.R., there wasn’t a local medical air evacuation service, nor ground support in the form of a quality clinic. Through our clinic we’ve created local jobs and income, too.
ORIS: Tell us about the partnership with Oris.
CG: In our neck of the woods, the prestige of a beautiful watch doesn’t mean much of course, but the association has been a real boost to our team. The watch will help raise awareness of what we do, which is hugely valuable to us as we look to build a sustainable model for the future. Our pilots love Oris pilot’s watches and it’s wonderful to see a piece with our logo on the caseback!