Slovenian extreme climber Tomaz Humar was hanging, seriously injured, 6,300 metres up on the south wall of Langtang Lirung in the Himalayas. In desperation, Humar grabbed his phone and called for help. His only hope was a helicopter rescue.
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One of Nepal’s most experienced pilots, Sabin Basnyat of Fishtail Air, was notified. But he did not consider attempting the rescue, lacking experience at that altitude. Until this event in 2009 it was considered impossible to fly a helicopter so high because of the thin air.
Basnyat made contact with Air Zermatt in Switzerland, whose pilots were known as the world’s most experienced. Two days after Humar’s call for help, Swiss pilot Robi Andenmatten landed in Kathmandu along with rescue specialists and mountain guides Simon Anthamatten and Bruno Jelk. The same day they flew with Basnyat to Langtang Lirung where Humar was still hanging on the wall.
In the end Humar was brought down dead from the mountain. But the mission proved that high-altitude helicopter rescues were possible.
Air Zermatt, together with Fishtail Air, offered to coordinate the training of Nepalese pilots and rescue teams as well as set up a base in the Himalayas. In August 2010 two pilots and a Sherpa from Nepal travelled to Zermatt for training.
In the spring of 2011, during the Himalayan climbing season, Air Zermatt and Fishtail Air operated a helicopter mountain rescue base in Nepal.
Despite all the training and the experience gained, the work remained dangerous. Shortly after returning from Switzerland pilot Sabin Basnyat and rescuer Purna Awale were killed in an accident during a rescue mission.
(Pictures and text: Manuel Bauer)
SWI swissinfo.ch - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR
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