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Flying lifesavers Air Zermatt: 50 years of Alpine air rescue

One of Switzerland’s best known air rescue services, Air Zermatt, is marking a half century of service this year.

Although Air Zermatt – with one of its bases in the popular mountain resort of the same name - is most well-known for rescuing people injured or stranded on mountains, or in hard-to-reach crevasses in the Alps, it also operates sightseeing flights for tourists, taking in views of Switzerland’s iconic Matterhorn mountain or the Aletsch glacier.

Material transport accounts for 60% of its flight time: moving construction materials up to sites in the mountains for Alpine huts, mountain railways or avalanche barriers.

The company’s reach extends beyond their corner of Switzerland. In 2011, Air Zermatt and the Zermatt rescue station built a rescue centre in the Himalayas. The project was planned to be educational, and create an opportunity for knowledge transfer between mountain guides and air rescue pilots in Switzerland and Nepal.

Peaks and troughs

In the same year, two mountain rescuers from the company received the “Heroism Award” in the United States, for the highest helicopter mountain rescue ever attempted at 7,000 metres in the Annapurna peaks in Nepal. A pilot from Air Zermatt and a mountain guide from the village were training in the area when the emergency call came in. They saved three people. 

But the company’s also been criticised in the past. Environmental groups such as Mountain Wilderness, argue that tourist flights and flights for heli-skiing carried out by a number of helicopter firms, including Air Zermatt are disruptive to animals and alpinists. Heli-skiing is allowed in Switzerland within set legal regulations.

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