Life Savers and Tour Guides
A helicopter flight around the summit of the Matterhorn is a truly unforgettable experience. For Air Zermatt pilots, making that happen for passengers is all part of the day job. And the other part? Being on call and ready to respond to accidents up in the mountains around the clock.
Paramedic Dominik Imhof is organising and checking over the materials in the helicopter. Originally from Riederalp above the Rhône Valley in the canton of Valais, this young man knows the mountains like the back of his hand. The hangar is quiet with an air of concentration. Imhof is joined by other technicians, pilots and paramedics getting ready for their shift ahead. It’s still early in the morning and the top of the Matterhorn is bathed in the morning light. But it won’t be long before these airborne heroes are on duty. Soon the first skiers will be weaving their way down the pistes at lightning speed.
A siren breaks the silence. Everyone jumps into action within a matter of seconds. Technicians move one of the rescue helicopters out of the hangar and onto the launch pad. And it’s up in the air before five minutes have even passed since the alarm sounded. Gerold Biner sits behind the cyclic stick. But he is no ordinary pilot. In fact, he is the CEO of Air Zermatt. And a living legend of the local area. He has already been on 4600 rescue flights in Switzerland alone and that’s not counting his work abroad. Paramedic Imhof and Frank Kube, a doctor, are on board the helicopter too.
As a team, they work together like a well-oiled machine. In what seems like no time at all, the injured skier is on his way to the hospital in Visp. The many nearby ski resorts mean that no other hospital receives quite as many patients arriving by helicopter. The crew are still transferring the patient to the hospital doctors when the next emergency call comes in.
During peak tourist season, Air Zermatt can cover up to 25 calls with three helicopters per day. A specialist in mountain rescues is also part of the crew for more complex rescue missions. The winter months are busy, but there is a steady stream of rescues during the summer too. The Matterhorn is one of the most dangerous mountains in the world after all. Since Brit Edward Whymper became the first person to reach the summit back in 1865, more than 500 mountain climbers have lost their lives on its slopes.
These helicopters aren’t always on duty, though. “We would be operating at a loss if all we did were rescue flights,” says Gerold Biner. And so Air Zermatt offers transportation and taxi services as well as unforgettable tours high up in the skies. The skilled pilots fly up close to the sides of the mountains, pass over mountain ridges and circle the summit of this 4,000-metre peak. A Matterhorn helicopter tour is a breath-taking experience. You fly so close to the summit that you can even catch a glimpse of the cross on the Italian side of the mountain.
About Air Zermatt
With their distinctive red and white stars, Air Zermatt helicopters stand for reliability and speed. Their pilots are known throughout the world for their competence, passion and vast experience. Air Zermatt offers the fastest taxi service in Switzerland. Travel exclusively, comfortably and with a magnificent view to Zermatt from across Switzerland over its neighbouring countries. For a very exclusive service fly with the Bell 429 Twin Engine helicopter equipped with the luxury VIP seating to take you to your desired destination.
Words Martin Hoch
Photos Nico Scharer
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