Keeping you safe on the slopes: 50 years of Air Zermatt
Carrying out approximately 1,700 rescue missions each year, Air Zermatt is to be congratulated on reaching 50 years in operation.
Half a century in high mountain operations
Founded in 1968, this year Air Zermatt marks half a century in high mountain operations. The team are celebrating with the delivery of a brand new Bell 429 helicopter which Gerald Biner, CEO, Air Zermatt, described as “truly customer designed” with “incredible performance, especially in the tough terrain of the Swiss Alps.” With Zermatt’s unpredictable winds, high altitudes and changing weather conditions, this is sure to be a welcome addition to the teams already impressive fleet of nine helicopters.
Around a third of Air Zermatt’s flights are rescue missions. With round the clock service, 365 days of the year, Air Zermatt are dedicated to keeping people safe on the mountain. Due to the extreme nature of the rescues, Air Zermatt has been instrumental in developing and refining innovative solutions in mountain rescue. This has involved the use of a longline for rescues from cliff faces, where a rescuer is delivered to the site whilst dangling from a long cable attached to the bottom of the rotorcraft. Another innovation is the use of the tripod to help rescue stranded mountaineers from glacial crevasses. These methods have enabled decades of climbers and snowsport enthusiasts to be rescued from nearly impossible to reach locations.
The importance of teamwork
With dangerous conditions and extreme situations, being part of a mountain rescue team is not for the faint hearted. Each mission consists of a team of three people - a pilot, doctor and paramedic. However, whenever there is a rescue mission outside a controlled ski area, a mountain rescue guide who is trained for critical situations, with knowledge of the area and the ability to access hard to reach places, must accompany the team.
Teamwork is a big part of Air Zermatt’s philosophy. Trust and respect between the team is a must when working together in difficult situations. The team consists of six full time pilots, seven paramedics and 32 doctors (all volunteers who work on a rotating schedule) as well as flight assistants and engineers. The aim is to be at the scene of the accident within 20 minutes of receiving an emergency call. At night, this target time extends to 35 minutes. The average length of time per rescue is an impressive one hour from the first call to clean-up back in the hangar.
Extending its reach
Although Air Zermatt is best known for rescuing injured people or those stranded on mountains, it also has many other strings to its bow from sightseeing flights and guided tours to providing supplies and forestry work on the slopes. In fact material transport accounts for 60% of its flight time. This involves moving construction materials to sites in the mountains for Alpine huts, mountain railways or avalanche barriers.
It is not just Switzerland that benefits from Air Zermatt’s expertise. In 2011 Air Zermatt, together with the pilots of Fishtail Air from Nepal, built a rescue station in the Himalayas. This was an educational project giving an opportunity for knowledge transfer between the mountain guides and air rescue pilots in Switzerland and Nepal. As part of this exercise, the mountain rescuers from Zermatt achieved the world’s highest helicopter rescue ever attempted at 7,000 metres in the Annapurna peaks of Nepal, saving three people. Heli pilot Daniel Aufdenblatten and mountain rescuer Richi Lehner received the “Heroism Award” for this exceptional feat, the highest honour in international aviation. Demonstrating their incredible bravery once again, we only hope that Air Zermatt continues to help people on the mountains and continue to strengthen mountain rescue operations over the next 50 years.