Nepalese crew during high-altitude mountain rescue training in Switzerland.
Image by Menno Boermans courtesy Menno Boermans, SOURCE
Air Zermatt B· chopper performing a rescue on Kyajo Ri last week.
courtesy Fishtail Air, SOURCE
Air Zermatt + Fishtail Air first rescues on Kyajo Ri and Manaslu

Posted: Apr 26, 2010 03:25 pm EDT
Spring 2010, Air Zermatt of Switzerland and Fishtail Air of Nepal have joined forces to provide the first Himalayan standby helicopter rescue service in history. The team is able to initiate high-altitude rescue attempts up to 7000 meters within hours of receiving a call and fly a so-called human sling operation.

The first missions have already taken place. On Kyajo Ri a body of a Danish climber was recovered, while on Manaslu today 7 were rescued.

The following is a newsreport posted on Bergredding.nl:

Danish Philip Ulrich lost on Kyajo Ri

On April 23th the team airlifted the dead body of Danish mountaineer Philip Ulrich at Mt. Kyajo Ri in the Khumbu valley. The climber fell to his death between the summit (6186 meter) and base camp. Sherpas were unable to retrieve the remains, as he had landed at an inaccessible point. As there was no other way to retrieve the dead body, the Danish embassy finally requested the rescue team for help. The mission was carried out by Capt. Sabin Basnyat and Technician Purna Awale by using a AS 350 B3 helicopter. While Sabin Basnyat controlled the chopper, Purna Awale hung on to a 45 meter long rope and tied the body to a harness.

This was the first human sling operation which was carried out by Nepalese Capt. Sabin Basnyat and Technician Purna Awale after receiving training at Air Zermatt in Switzerland last month.

Koreans perished on Manaslu

Today (April 26th) the team tried to save two missing Korean climbers from 7000 meter altitude on Manaslu. Unfortunately the rescuers located only one climber and found out that he was already dead. Because there was no request to recover the body, the team returned without taking the corps. Lower down, at around 6000 meter, seven other climbers and sherpas of the Korean team where evacuated by helicopter, after being too exhausted to return safely to base camp.

Rescue operations details by Menno Boermans on Bergredding.nl: From April 24 until June 2, 2010, a Fishtail Air helicopter in the Khumbu area will be manned by a rescue pilot and mountain rescue specialist from Air Zermatt. A second helicopter, flying transport missions in the Dhaulagiri region, also will be on call if needed. In case of an emergency, the team will be able to initiate high-altitude rescue attempts up to 7000 meters within hours of receiving a call.

These professionals will be able to fly a so-called human sling operation. Upon arriving at a rescue scene, one specialist will hang from the helicopter on a longline, a rope that can be extended up to 200 meters. After building an anchor and unclipping from the longline, the specialist will examine the patient. The rescuer will maintain contact with the pilot by headset, directing the longline back to his position, then will clip himself and the patient onto the line. Then the helicopter, still dangling the longline, will fly to a level area where a paramedic or doctor is waiting.

This kind of aerial maneuver originated in the Swiss Alps. In 1970, a mountain guide with Air Zermatt performed the first longline mountain rescue on north face of the Eiger. This mission forever changed mountain rescue operations.

But because of an absence of proper helicopters and skilled pilots in the Himalayas, local rescue missions generally do not use longlines. Instead, pilots must land or hover, a challenge for many high-altitude mountainside rescues. There have been only a handful of Himalayan longline rescue attempts, and most were performed by specialized teams from faraway locations.

In 2005, the Pakistan Army successfully plucked Slovenian alpinist Tomaz Humar off Nanga Parbats Rupal Face by longline with help from a distance by Air Zermatt. But no rescuer was hanging on the longline to assist him. In his exhausted state, Humar forgot to unclip his ice screw, which nearly caused the helicopter to crash. The new program hopes to increase safety by ensuring that a longline rescue specialist is available at all times to support the pilot and patient(s).

After last years failed attempts to rescue Spanish alpinist Oscar Perez on Latok in August and Tomaz Humar on Langtang Lirung in November Air Zermatt discussed options for improving rescue systems and reaction times in the Himalayas.

They hope the new program not only improves these issues, but also supports education for Nepalese pilots who want to learn how to fly longline rescues.

Last march we invited five members from Nepal to see our operation here in the European Alps, Swiss pilot Gerold Biner said. The Nepalese pilots could fly real missions in the Matterhorn area, and at the end we did a rescue exercise with a longline.

Operations this spring will commence as a trial period. Climbers in need, or their insurance, will pay operating costs as usual. But because of training costs, Air Zermatt and Fishtail Air are searching for sponsors. If all goes well this year and enough money is raised, they will continue high-altitude, on-call rescue services in future seasons.

The team will pilot one AS 350 B3 helicopter, also known as a Squirrel, which can perform longline rescues up to 7000 meters.

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