Thomas Zumtaugwald nominated for Prix Courage
During a rescue, Thomas Zumtaugwald risked his own life to save that of a skier. The rescue specialist from Randa was therefore nominated for the Prix Courage. Voting runs until October 18.
Thomas Zumtaugwald is known among mountain guides and rescue specialists as a quiet and modest man. He has been part of the Zermatt rescue team for over a decade. On May 1, 2022, he was called to a rescue where he showed courage and selfless determination.
At 10:50 a.m., an alarm was sounded. Two Italian skiers were skiing off the marked ski slope. One of them, a 60-year-old man, broke through the snow cover and fell into the current of the rushing Furggbach.
An Air Zermatt helicopter picked up Thomas Zumtaugwald in Randa and took him directly to the accident site. When he arrived, he saw ten rescuers already on the scene, including mountain guides, experienced rescue specialists and Air Zermatt flight assistants. These mountain rescuers themselves were in constant danger, as the water and spring temperatures had created a cavity between the water of the Furggbach and the snow cover. "The situation was very delicate," Zumtaugwald later recalled. "We proceeded very carefully and secured ourselves with ropes."
By the time Zumtaugwald arrived on the scene, the injured skier had been in the freezing water for an hour. Rescuers on the scene were able to locate his position using a probe. The rescuers dug a hole and tried to lower a rope to retrieve the injured man. However, he was already too weakened to grasp the rope. No one knew exactly how severe his injuries were. A rescue diver was requested, but it would take at least 30 minutes for him to arrive on the scene. At this crucial moment, Thomas Zumtaugwald decided to act. Realizing that every second counted, he called out for someone to descend.
Mission at the limit
Without knowing whether the skier was still alive, the rescue specialist descended through the ice hole into the darkness. Surrounded by cold, roaring water, Zumtaugwald finally reached the unconscious skier. To rescue him, he had to dive into the icy water himself to secure the severely hypothermic man. His fingers quickly went numb. Finally, the rescuers on the surface were able to pull the severely hypothermic skier out of the Furggbach and bring him to safety.
While Zumtaugwald worked in the freezing water below, he became increasingly unwell and cold. Once the skier was retrieved from the cold darkness, Thomas Zumtaugwald was left in the water. "I knew that every second counted for me now, too, and I asked my colleagues to hurry," he recalled later. When he was finally safely back on the surface, he realized how dangerous his mission had been.
The rescued skier was flown to the hospital by Air Zermatt. A doctor explained that the patient would probably have died 15 minutes later, as his body temperature had dropped to a dangerous 26 degrees.
Thomas Zumtaugwald not only proved his courage on this May Sunday, but also saved a human life through his selfless efforts. He never seeks attention. Now his courage and determination are being recognized with a nomination for the Prix Courage.
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