Air Zermatt, Rettungsstories, Helikopter

© Nathalie Taiana 



During his 38 years as Medical Director at Air Zermatt, Dr. Axel Mann served the helicopter company with his medical expertise and skills. He collected an endless number of thrilling, humorous, and sad stories over the years, and we knew we had to share them with you. Enjoy a look into the amazingly varied day-to-day work of our rescue crew.

20. October 2022
Céline Bader

We sat down with Dr. Mann one more time to record his most defining experiences. Many of these moments not only changed the trajectory of his career as an anesthesiologist and intensive care specialist, but also transformed the operations at Air Zermatt.

Crevasse rescues are always a massive challenge for any rescue crew. It often takes more than one helicopter just to transport the crew and all the necessary equipment, from hammer drills to tripods. Because the patient being rescued is often experiencing hypothermia, the crew spares no effort and time is of the essence. Cardiac arrest is not uncommon in these situations.

Dr. Mann recalls a very successful mission that took place several years ago. The rescue crew was called out for a crevasse rescue in extremely unfavorable weather conditions with strong gusts of wind. The incident involved a group of alpinists who were climbing on the Dom at 4,200 meters. The accident victim, an Italian, had fallen 19 meters down into a narrow crevasse, and the mission required a range of rescue equipment.

The accident occurred at noon. “The patient was gradually slipping down further into the crevasse as his body heat melted the ice. The ice overburden couldn’t run down through the narrow space, so it had to be carefully removed up to the surface in buckets. It was a race against time,” says Dr. Mann of the crevasse rescue operation. The crew simultaneously had to carve out a rescue shaft, but they were able to make contact with the climber and communicate with him – until he lost consciousness between 3 and 4 p.m. Dr. Mann therefore concluded that his body temperature had already fallen below 30 degrees Celsius.

The climber ultimately sank further from the initial 19 meters down to 41 meters into the crevasse. The crew’s mountain rescue operation was conducted under the harshest conditions and lasted until 6 p.m. The patient was finally brought to the surface with a body temperature of 16 degrees Celsius. “That was the lowest body temperature ever recorded worldwide at the time,” Dr. Mann recalled.

He and his medical team took charge of the hypothermia patient experiencing cardiac arrest and flew him directly to the University Hospital of Bern for reanimation measures. The Italian was connected to a heart-lung machine and warmed up over the course of 24 hours.

“After three days, the patient had already improved so much that he was transferred from the ICU to a normal care unit. He was then discharged with no health issues ten days later. And as if the whole incident wasn’t already unbelievable enough, he ended up marrying the intensive care nurse three months later.”

The patient obviously had quite a guardian angel looking over him, but it is thanks to the rescue team that he is able to live his life today with no brain damage or cerebral consequences. “You can only congratulate the man, the rescue and medical crews, and the follow-up care team for this feat.” Dr. Mann is sure that the recovery went so well thanks to this great collaboration.

Missions like this one are the very reason that he chose his profession: “These rescue missions are deeply fulfilling, and you feel like you’ve done something meaningful. It’s a great feeling to save someone’s life as a team.”

Air Zermatt rescue helicopter

© Daniel Berchtold

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