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Swiss Air Ambulance Rega - The Swiss way of Rescue

 

By Caterina Hessler - The “Rega” is one of the most famous rescue institutions in Europe. It has influenced alpine rescue in Switzerland and worldwide, like no other. With more than 13,700 alerts in 2010, the crews of the “Rega” fly for people´s lives 24/7.Rega Photo

 

The harsh terrain and the rapidly changing weather conditions in Switzerland pose a threat to hikers, climbers and all people, who seek recreational activities outdoors.  Often people underestimate the forces of nature and get themselves into danger. In case of an emergency a short and efficient rescue chain, a perfectly trained rescue crew and state of the art equipment are of utmost importance. The “Rega” sets the benchmarks for all those key features of medevac.

 

While two young friends were climbing in the riverbed of the river “Verzasca” in Switzerland, none of them thought they were in mortal danger. Only minutes later the calm river was turned into a torrent due to a thunderstorm in the Alps. Both men were able to climb on a rock in the middle of the water but could not return to the riverbank, because of the surging water. A buddy discovered them in their hopeless situation and called the emergency service. Within minutes after the alert, a red and white helicopter, belonging to the famous Swiss Air Rescue Institution “Rega”, arrived at the scene. In cooperation with specialists of the “Swiss Alpine Club”, “SAC”, the crew was able to rescue the stranded men by hoist.

 

A historical view

The “Rega” was founded in 1952 by the “Swiss Life Rescue Association” (SLRG). Since then, they have had a significant influence on mountain rescue, worldwide. The first rescue missions were performed by parachutists who received their training and qualifications in the Royal Air Force of Great Britain. In December 1952 pilot Sepp Bauer successfully rescued a man with his Hiller 360. He fastened a regular balloon basket underneath the helicopter to get the injured person out of the mountain area - this was the world´s first sling load ever transported by a helicopter. In 1960 the “Rega” took up repatriation flights of wounded Swiss citizens with a Piaggio 166. Six years later Rega held the first helicopter symposium on the “Eiger” glacier (the “Eiger” is one of the most famous Swiss mountains with a height of 3970 meters ASL. It is located in the Canton Bern). During the symposium equipment such as the horizontal net and the rescue rope to save people in difficult terrain were introduced. 1977 a helicopter flew a direct rescue mission of two climbers in the steep “Eiger Nordwand” (the most difficult and world famous route of the mountain, notorious for its rega photocasualties) – a task that seemed impossible until that day.

 

But the most spectacular rescue mission was flown in 1980 at the airfield of Yverdon in the French speaking part of Switzerland. The parachute of a skydiver was caught in the tail wheel of the dropping airplane. The crew of a Rescue helicopter was able to disentangle the man while flying in close formation with the still airborne airplane. The man was able to get safe to the ground by using his reserve parachute.

 

“Rega” was the first civil organisation worldwide to equip all of their crews with the night vision system ANVIS (in 1987). These are only a few steps in the interesting history of the organisation.

 

General information

Now “Rega” operates 14 bases in Switzerland (Rega 1-14, Zurich, Basel, Bern, Lausanne, Untervaz, Locarno, St. Gallen, Erstfeld, Samedan, Wilderswil, Mollis and Zweisimmen), one ally base in Genéve (Rega 15) and the Rega Center in Zurich. The bases are equipped with the EC145 for flat country missions and the AgustaWestland Da Vinci for mountain rescue flights. For repatriation flights Challenger CL-604 are used.

 

The AW109 PS Da Vinci was specially designed for the profile of Rega. She meets the high requirements of the mountain rescue in flight performance, medicine and servicing. The helicopter was introduced to the fleet, in 2009. It is equipped with two Pratt & Whitney power plants with 815 PS (599KW) each. The cruising speed is about 260 kilometers per hour (161,56 mph) and the maximum take off weight is 3175 Kg (6999,68 lbs).

 

The height performance of the EC 145 is not quite as good as that of the “Da Vinci” so she is used on flat country bases. She is cost-effective, is spacious enough for emergency doctors, paramedics and one patient and has a high endurance. The EC 145 or BK 117-2 is powered by two Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 with 771 PS (567 KW) each. The cruising speed is about 240 km/h (149,13 mph) and the maximum operational height is 5,400 m ASL. In addition to the regular rescue equipment like emergency medicine interior, rescue hoist and cargo hook, the helicopters are equipped with some special features. The first to be mentioned here is the long-line, a 200m rope that is engaged in the cargo hook to rescue climbers in vertical rock banks. If the bank is covered by a craning rock formation, the rescue specialist is able to bring himself to the person in need with the help of a telescope stake. The recovery bag is used if a person has to be transported in lying position and by hoist. If the person to be rescued is suspected to have suffered damage to the spine, it can be transported in the rescue net, which is easily to be moved under the lying person.

 

Every fifth rescue mission of “Rega” is a flight during nighttime. So all helicopters are fully night vision compatible and the pilots and crewmembers use night vision goggles.

 

The spectrum of deployment is vast: winter sport accidents, road traffic incidents and injured mountain climbers make up most of the assignments. But the crews of the “Rega” are also alerted to find buried people after an avalanche, to recover persons from crevasses, to help finding divers, and even to assist in cave rescue missions and animal recovery as well. To enable a fast and safe mission the crews work in close cooperation with specialists from the fire brigade, members of other mountain rescue services, commercial helicopter organisations (especially for animal transportation, after avalanches with high casualties, or search flights), the Swiss Air Force (they have a state of the art infrared camera system), the Swiss Alpine Club, ambulance services and the police.

 

The donation system

“Rega” is an autonomous and charitable private trust that is financed to 50 percent by fees of health insurance funds and accident insurances. The remaining 50 percent are made up by donations. „Goenner“ (favourer) can donate a fixed contribution each year. For the small amount of 30

CHF (about 39 US$) for single persons, 60CHF (about 77 US$) for a couple, or 70CHF (90 US$) every person in Switzerland or abroad can support the rescue activities of “Rega”. Due to the support by its favourers, The Swiss Air Ambulance offers the following services in Switzerland and the Princedom of Liechtenstein: rescue flights or medically necessary transportation flights to the next hospital, rescue actions of SAC, search flights in cooperation with the police, evacuation, recovery of injured or ill animals (cattle) and recovery of corpses, in accordance with the local authorities. Worldwide Rega offers their „Goenner“ medical help and advisory service as well as repatriation flights for people living in Switzerland or Liechtenstein and Swiss citizens living in other countries. The fellowship has a validity of one year and starts with the date of payment. How important this model is shows the fact that Rega was able to buy the first helicopters that was fully financed by donations in 1971. As early as in 1985 they welcomed their 1.000.000 Goenner.

 

Of course the rescue specialists of Rega are subject to weather conditions and may not be able to fly a mission due to minimal sight, storm or other limiting factors and they won´t be able to rescue every life. The Alps are a very hostile area and many people get in mortal danger due to rapidly changing weather, wrong equipment, overestimation of one's own capability or simply foolish behaviour. Often missions are flown close rega phototo the limit of crew and helicopter, but the members of “Rega” always seek to secure their own lives and those of their patients as good as possible. Sometimes the “Rega” has to mourn casualties within their own ranks. In 2010 an emergency doctor died after attending to a winter athlete, who had been caught by an avalanche. The medic had just finished his work as a second avalanche buried him. He died on the way to hospital.

 

The “Rega” has one of the most modern air ambulance fleets in Europe, focussing on mountain rescue. They continuously approve new methods for safer flying. One of those improvements is the GPS based landing procedure. Modern navigation systems offer the possibility to land at the Inselspital in Bern (the university hospital in Switzerlands´s capital, Bern) using an instrument glide path if the weather conditions such as fog or snow do not allow a regular sight landing. This is a new chapter in rescue flights. Within the coming years all pilots will be trained in instrument flight rules to practice this approach. But the new developments do not stop there. A unique feature is available to those, who own a smartphone: the rescue app, an application for the iPhone that allows people in need to alert Rega in Switzerland or abroad. The app transmits the personal data and the coordinates of its location to the rescue coordination centre. The app iRega is available for free in the iTunes store.

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