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Stranded in the ravine

While evacuating two snowboarders, every movement made by the crew from the Rega base in Untervaz is perfectly executed. It is one of five missions that they are called out to on this Saturday morning.


Paramedic Beda Suter has just refuelled the helicopter after the third mission of the morning when the next alarm call comes in. To enable the crew to optimally prepare for the upcoming mission, the Rega Operations Centre also sends the key information along with the call-out request: a man and a child are stranded in dangerous terrain, the rescue hoist will probably be needed.

Ready for the rescue hoist

Thanks to clearly defined procedures, the crew are able to take off as quickly as possible. While pilot Andreas Flütsch starts up the engines of the AgustaWestland Da Vinci, emergency flight physician Anne Bütikofer is already clambering into her climbing harness. Consequently she is ready to be lowered on the rescue hoist to the stranded persons. Beda Suter does not take a seat next to the pilot in the cockpit as usual. Instead, he joins Anne Bütikofer in the cabin, from where he will subsequently operate the rescue hoist. Just a few minutes after receiving the alarm call, the helicopter is in the air and Andreas Flütsch radios the Operations Centre: “Rega from Rega 5, we’re on our way to Grüsch”.

Eventful day of missions

On this Saturday during the school holidays, Rega 5 – the radio code of the crew from the Untervaz base – had already flown several missions that morning. A skier had injured her shoulder on her first descent of the day in Arosa. Already while the patient was being handed over to the hospital staff, the helicopter crew received their next assignment. In Lenzerheide, another skier had lost control of her skis, flown over a large mound of snow and landed heavily on the piste. She, too, was flown to hospital with suspected traumatic brain injury and injuries to her leg, hip and arm before the Rega crew returned to their base. Less than ten minutes later, however, Andreas Flütsch, Beda Suter and Anne Bütikofer were already on their way again: a young snowboarder had fallen on the piste in the Grüsch-Danusa ski area and was complaining of severe pain in his shoulder. The crew also flew him to hospital for further clarifications.

Grüsch for the second time

Just shortly after returning from Grüsch, Rega 5 is once again heading back in the same direction. While snowboarding, a young father and his eight-year-old daughter ended up in an icy ravine and could not get out again. In order not to put himself and his daughter in any further danger, the 31-year-old alerted Rega’s Operations Centre. “The father reacted correctly,” says paramedic Beda Suter. “Raising the alarm early on can – as in this case – prevent something worse from happening.”

As the rescue helicopter approaches the ravine, Beda Suter opens the cabin doors. He and emergency flight physician Anne Bütikofer look down and try to locate the father and his daughter. However, the ravine is in the shade and snow-free areas and trees make it difficult to spot them. Pilot Andreas Flütsch flies the helicopter up the mountainside above the frozen stream at the bottom of the ravine once more before radioing the Operations Centre. He asks the flight coordinator to contact the father and set up a conference call. Consequently, the Rega crew are able to speak to the father over the inflight telephone and he can guide the helicopter to the right place.

Every movement is just right

Training is regularly carried out to ensure that the teamwork between the Rega crew members functions optimally even in stressful situations, such as a high volume of missions or immense time pressure. This also applies to missions with the rescue hoist, where it is particularly important that the three-person crew work closely together. Beda Suter attaches the hook of the rescue hoist to Anne Bütikofer’s climbing harness and checks the safety catch before she stands on the step bar, a narrow metal skid outside the helicopter. After a visual check, she makes a thumbs-up sign – the signal for Beda Suter to lower her on the rescue hoist to the two stranded snowboarders on the ground. The three crew members are in constant contact with each other via radio. In this way, pilot Andreas Flütsch knows what is happening behind and beneath him, and Beda Suter can give the helicopter pilot instructions so that he can set Anne Bütikofer down on the ground with pinpoint accuracy. Once the emergency flight physician has reached the father and his child, her colleagues fly to a temporary landing site and wait there until she has prepared the two uninjured persons for evacuation with the rescue hoist.

When all three are ready, the helicopter returns to the ravine and Beda Suter lowers the hoist hook to Anne Bütikofer. She attaches herself, the young girl and the girl’s snowboard to the hoist cable and gives the paramedic a hand signal, indicating that he can pull them up on the hoist. Suspended beneath the helicopter, the two are flown to the temporary landing site and set down on the ground. The daughter remains there and waits for her father to also be flown out of the ravine. Once both snowboarders have their feet on terra firma once more, Beda Suter accompanies them to the nearby road. There a woman driving by agrees to give the father and his daughter a lift to the bottom station of the aerial cableway.


A late lunch

Hardly ten minutes back at the base and the crew are called out on the fifth mission of the day. A child has fallen while skiing on the Heinzenberg. The boy is crying and complaining of severe back pain, but it is not possible to localise exactly where it is coming from. Emergency flight physician Anne Bütikofer therefore decides to fly him to hospital for further investigation. Back in Untervaz, pilot Andreas Flütsch sits down at the desk to complete the mission reports. Beda Suter refuels the rescue helicopter and then helps Anne Bütikofer to replenish the medical supplies before the three of them finally have time for a short rest and a late lunch.

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