14. September 2022

Falling into the rope on the Matterhorn in running shoes

Air Zermatt was called to several demanding rescues in the mountains over the past few days. Wind, fog and poorly accessible, exposed positions of the alpinists in distress posed a great challenge for the rescuers. In addition, many of the rescues had to be carried out during the night.

Saturday evening, 9:00 p.m. Alarm at Air Zermatt. A two-man team was descending from the Wellenkuppe late at night. After an abseil, one of the alpinists fell about 100 metres down a steep slope into a small ditch. The companion immediately alerted the rescue services. An Air Zermatt helicopter and a rescue specialist were able to evacuate the injured alpinist with a winch despite strong gusts of wind. He was flown to Visp hospital with head and back injuries. Due to fog and wind, however, the accompanying person, who was visibly worried, could no longer be fetched by helicopter.

Night mission on the Matterhorn

Then at around 10:30 p.m., another climber reported in from the Matterhorn. At the summit of the Matterhorn East Face, a 51-year-old Spaniard fell into the rope at an altitude of 4200 metres and got stuck there blocked. He was travelling alone. The Air Zermatt crew was able to sight the alpinist, but rescue was not possible due to fog and strong winds. The climber panicked. The emergency call centre 144, the Zermatt rescue specialist and the mother tried to calm the frightened alpinist by phone.

Back to the Wellenkuppe

Meanwhile, the rescuers were constantly monitoring the weather conditions at the Wellenkuppe in order to rescue the climber, who had been left alone, from her predicament. At around 3:30 in the morning, an Air Zermatt crew with a rescue specialist on board was finally able to take off again in the direction of Wellenkuppe. However, still under the most difficult weather conditions, the rescuers managed to evacuate the woman by winch.

Caper recovery on the Matterhorn

The weather also calmed down a little on the Matterhorn. In the early hours of the morning, the helicopter crew took off again together with a rescue specialist to the Spaniard who was still hanging in the rope. The rescuers decided to free the alpinist with a so-called caper rescue. In this case, the rescue specialist was flown by winch to the climber hanging on the rope. The rescue specialist attached the alpinist to the winch of the helicopter. This moment was particularly critical because the helicopter is directly connected to the mountain by the climber and therefore cannot immediately turn away in case of danger. Using a knife, the rescue specialist cuts the alpinist's rope very quickly and firmly. Failure to cut the rope can be very dangerous for all involved. This type of rescue is one of the most demanding mountain rescue techniques of all.

The mountain climber in distress was flown back to the base in Zermatt with slight frostbite on his fingers. The Spaniard was thinly clad and only wearing running shoes on the Matterhorn.

Exhausted climbers kept rescuers on their toes

Already in the night from Friday to Saturday, Air Zermatt was called for help. After crossing the Arben ridge, the Obergabelhorn and the Wellenkuppe, a two-man team set up their bivouac below the Rothorn hut. For a 32-year-old Englishwoman, the tour was too demanding. She was unable to recover properly at an altitude of around 3000 metres above sea level and went into respiratory distress. In a night operation, the patient was flown to the hospital in Visp.

On Saturday morning, Air Zermatt was called to the Dent Blanche. A 40-year-old alpinist from Germany was overwhelmed and exhausted on the mountain. An Air Zermatt rescue crew and a rescue specialist were able to fly the climber out of the mountain with a 50-metre longline. He was unhurt.

Immediately after this rescue, the Cantonal Valais Rescue Organisation (emergency number 144) alerted Air Zermatt again. Two young alpinists from Switzerland got into difficulties while climbing the Dom on the Festigrat at 4400 metres above sea level. Blocked on the mountain, they had to be rescued by Air Zermatt and a rescue specialist. The first attempt to evacuate them had to be abandoned due to strong winds. However, with a 50-metre longline, the two climbers were rescued shortly afterwards during the second attempt.

International rescue attempt

On Sunday afternoon, the air rescuers from Zermatt were called to a mission on the Signalkuppe. Four alpinists from Bulgaria got into mountain distress. One of them broke his arm in a fall. That is why the rope team could not go any further. Emergency services from Italy tried several times without success to fly the Bulgarians out of the mountain. Shortly before 4 p.m., the Air Zermatt crew and a rescue specialist from Zermatt finally took off in the direction of the Signalkuppe. The four Bulgarians were rescued with a 30-metre longline.









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