How did you get interested in mountain rescue, and what do you love about it?
I grew up in the Matterhorn valley and was fascinated by helicopters when I was a young boy. Now I get to fly helicopters in the place I grew up.
What’s especially rewarding about mountain rescue is that if the conditions allow, we can assist injured and missing people in distress. I particularly like to work within the team and our partner organizations. The act of helping together is very satisfying, especially if we can do it successfully, which is usually the case.
How do you mitigate the risks of working in such famously perilous conditions?
We do it according to established standard operating procedures (SOPs). These are based, among other things, on the operation specific risk analyses. As well as this, the teams are regularly trained in crew resource management.
Besides yourself, what does a typical crew consist of and how do you mesh well as a team?
Onboard, we have a pilot (myself), a certified flight paramedic and a doctor. Rescue specialist(s) often complete the team for topographically demanding rescue missions. Everyone has a qualification-specific main profession topic, and topic-intersecting matters are decided within the group.
Air Zermatt operates several different types of helicopters. Which ones are better for which jobs, and do you have a preference?
Air Zermatt operates the Airbus H125, Airbus H130 and Bell B429. The H130 is used for commercial air transport (CAT) flights such as taxi-flights, sightseeing and some heliski.
The H125 is mainly utilized for aerial work, CAT flights and hot-and-high-altitude rescue. For aerial work, I prefer the H125. In my opinion, there exists no comparable helicopter in this class; its performance and handling are outstanding. The B429 is mainly for rescue flights. But we use it for some other aerial work and CAT flights as well. It’s a great helicopter for these mixed operations.
You must spend a lot of time training, so how does the simulation of an emergency situation compare to the experience of live training protocols?
Simulation gives you an idea of how situations could or will be; it has its uses in being able to train for many different environments and occasions. This is especially useful when it comes to operations that should be automatic before you need them during actual operations. Saying that, no simulation can fully compare with a real-life situation.
Is there any equipment that has made a real difference since its introduction?
In the early years, much was newly introduced that made a real difference for rescue and aerial work. Today, it is mainly just the further development and refinement of these tools that improve our daily activities. However, from the pilot’s perspective, I would say that night vision goggles (NVG), and their upgrades, have made a huge difference seeing hazards after-dark.
We work with standard green phosphor goggles or the new white phosphor version. Both have their advantages. In my opinion, the green ones are better for night and in snow; whereas for regions without snow, I prefer the white.
How has climate change affected the way you work?
Hot-and-high-altitude conditions are, in the summer, more frequent and last for longer. This presents a hazard for rescuers becoming more exposed to thawing permafrost in the form of rockfall.
Also, the performance of a helicopter decreases rapidly, especially at hot-and-high altitudes, limiting our effectiveness in reaching those people in distress. It is also well known that people do not work at the same pace at high temperatures. These are facts that we must face more and more.
I love to work in a geographical region that has all four seasons
The Swiss Alps have a unique geography – how do you find working across it at different times of the year?
I love to live and work in a geographical region where you really have all the four seasons. For me, that's a better way to perceive the passage of the years.
Each of the different seasons has its own features that impact what we do. As such, we have to compensate and adjust to those changes and the corresponding leisure activities (for instance: more skiers in winter, hikers in summer, and different scenarios that occur with each type of situation). I prefer the summer, as it presents challenging rescues as a pilot. Hikers and climbers are often in much more inaccessible territory. For this kind of terrain, we use the Helicopter Hoist Operation (winch) or the Human External Cargo Line.
As the first rescue company in Switzerland, how does Air Zermatt stay at the forefront of helicopter rescue?
Our chairman of the board says: “Rescue is a part of the DNA of the company and their employees.” As long as this doesn’t change, we will be here providing our service to those in need.