Challenging would be an understatement for helicopter rescue operations in the alpine environment. Constantly unpredictable winds, high altitudes, the quick changing nature of mountain weather and hover-out-of-ground all combine to shave safety margins razor thin.
Since 1968, Air Zermatt has been rescuing stranded mountaineers from alpine peaks and out of crevasses near the Matterhorn. The extreme conditions of these rescues required innovative solutions that Air Zermatt rescue service has developed and refined.
One of these methods is known as the “long line.” What this involves is delivering a rescuer to the site while dangling from a long cable attached to the bottom of the rotorcraft
The video shows rescuer Kurt Lauber suspended by a longline as the Lama helicopter above deftly carried him to a precipice where mountaineers are stranded. It is an impressive visual illustration of remarkable airmanship ... not to mention Lauber’s cool confidence while dangling thousands of feet in the air! This method has enabled rescue of climbers and snow sport enthusiasts from nearly impossible-to-reach locations.
An Air Zermatt crew performed the highest helicopter rescue in history on April 29, 2010, when pilot Daniel Aufdenblatten and mountain rescue specialist Richard Lehner took off in their Ecureuil AS350 B3 to pluck a stranded three-person mountaineering team from 23,000 ft. up on Annapurna in Nepal.
The rescue took three attempts in part because Lehner suffered a lack of oxygen while suspended on the rescue line during the 10-min. flight to the accident site. But they prevailed and saved three lives. For this extraordinary achievement the rescuers received Aviation Week & Space Technology’s Laureate for Heroism Award the following year.