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The beginnings of air-rescue

The Hiller helicopter in operation

First a handful of daring pilots with their light aircraft, then parachutists with avalanche dogs, followed by helicopter pilots with their revolutionary new machines: although air-rescue is still in its infancy, it is carried by a great wave of enthusiasm that unremittingly drives it forward. Swiss Air-Rescue organises itself under the umbrella of the Swiss rescue association, the Schweizerische Lebensrettungsgesellschaft (SLRG). These developments in Switzerland pave the way for air-rescue all over the world.


The stranded DC-3 Dakota aircraft on the Gauli GlacierIn November 1946, an American DC-3 Dakota aircraft becomes stranded on the Gauli Glacier in the Bernese Oberland. On 24 November, in a spectacular rescue operation, Swiss military pilots Victor Hug and Pista Hitz succeed in evacuating the passengers and crew. They managed to land two Fieseler Storch military planes on the glacier and, working closely with the mountain rescuers, transport everyone to safety. This improvised rescue operation marks the birth of air-rescue in Switzerland.


The St. Moritz hotelier, Fredy Wissel, and later, Hermann Geiger, from the canton of Valais, begin systematically trying out landing techniques on glaciers using aircraft fitted with skis.


On 27 April, Dr. med. Rudolf Bucher founds Swiss Air-Rescue at the meeting of delegates of the Swiss rescue association, Schweizerische Lebensrettungsgesellschaft (SLRG), in Twann. Initially, it is incorporated as a section of the SLRG. In September, the first rescue parachutists are trained by the highly experienced Royal Air Force in Abington, England.

First flying attempts at Zurich-Kloten Airport with a disused hot-air balloon basket 14 October: Hermann Geiger lands for the first time with the new glacier aircraft, the Piper Super Cub, which is fitted with retractable metal skis, on the Blüemlisalp glacier.

22 December: The pilot, Sepp Bauer, carries out Swiss Air-Rescue’s first helicopter rescue in Davos, using a Hiller 360. 

25 December: Dr. Rudolf Bucher, the new head of Swiss Air-Rescue, announces over Radio Beromünster that the organisation's helicopters and parachutists are ready for action.


A Swiss Air-Rescue parachutist with his dog in the Gantrisch regionIn winter 1953, Swiss Air-Rescue parachutists are used for the first time on a rescue mission.

1 February: A flood tide disaster in the Netherlands causes dikes to collapse; hundreds of villages and towns are flooded. The Dutch and Swiss Red Cross ask Swiss Air-Rescue for assistance – and they immediately go into action. Already the next night, a specially chartered Swissair aircraft flies an air-rescue team to the disaster area. With a hired helicopter, the pilots and parachutists work non-stop for three days and nights.


11 January: In an avalanche disaster in the Vorarlberg region of Austria, a number of villages are buried under the snow or completely destroyed. Swiss Air-Rescue despatches to the disaster area fourteen rescuers, six avalanche dog teams, two helicopters and a DC-3 aircraft with five rescue parachutists on board, two of them physicians.


During three days in March, over 300,000 spectators watch a live operations demonstration in the area around Zurich's lower lake basin. Its purpose is to procure funds for air-rescue services.


3 July: Two commercial aircraft collide over the Rocky Mountains, in the Grand Canyon region of the USA. The parts of the wreckage lie in an inaccessible, 1,200 metre deep ravine. The US authorities need a special rescue unit to recover the bodies, and find what they are looking for in Swiss Air-Rescue.


Hermann Geiger in the Bell 47 J at Sion Airport28 February: The Association of Swiss Consumers' Cooperative Societies (now Coop) presents Swiss Air-Rescue with a Bell 47 J helicopter, which is placed at the disposal of Hermann Geiger to carry out rescue missions in the Valais.


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