Text & Pictures: Laurent Cuvelier© sbap 2014

Blue skies, quite a lot of snow, ideal conditions for some fairylike photography...

Located at the bottom of Val d'Herens, Swiss Wallis canton, Arolla peaks at an altitude of 2000 m and benefits from a breathtaking alpine landscape. The village is a mecca for mountain climbing in the summer and alpine ski-ing during wintertime.

Aerial activity takes place daily for various reasons.

The impressive Grande-Dixence dam (or Val des Dix, supplying 1/5 of commutable energy in Switzerland) has its second biggest catchment area at Arolla. This generating station has a little helipad which serves for the delivery of maintenance material but also for the other helicopters of the valley. It is indeed possible to book sightseeing flights with aerial companies located in the valley (Sion airport) or mountain flights to get you directly to the surrounding summits to ski them down.

When one says outdoor activities, one also thinks of the risks of such a harsh environment as mountainous terrain. The helicopter is the fastest mean for searching or dropping off rescuers and mountain guides as well as for evacuating victims.

 

Historical overview of aerial assistance in Wallis and in Switzerland

 

For long, man has tried to facilitate his existence by the use of technical means adapted to the problems encountered. Not so long ago transport of material within the alpine environment was carried by men or mules where roads ended. In the same way, when an accident happened, the victim was carried often uncomfortably to the first rescue station available in the valley.

In the 50's one man tried to remedy the situation, his name Hermann Geiger. Chief-pilot and manager at the Sion airport, he uses a modified Piper Cub with a 125 Hp engine to deliver heavy loads by air instead off carried by man or animal. With the growth of his success and flight hours, he tried to find a technique allowing him to land on the glaciers, which would give him, besides the delivery of loads, also the opportunity to evacuate victims with his airplane.

To do so he modifies his Piper, incorporating a hold for the transportation of materials and retractable skis enabling him to land on snowy surfaces. He works out a landing technique consisting of approaching and landing up-hill on the glacier followed by a U-turn to line up down hill for take-off. He implemented this technique for the first time on May 10, 1952 when he successfully landed on the Kander-glacier.

This was the beginning of aerial rescue and the following years, Hermann Geiger, took with him into the history of mountain rescue Mr Fernand Martignoni, which became his right-hand man. Sometimes the team encountered some problems as the little Piper or the Pilatus Porter were not always able to land and in 1957, after a fund-raising, Hermann Geiger took possession of a Bell 47 J. This allowed him and Fernand Martignoni to start the Swiss aerial rescue era.

Sadly, as risk is always omnipresent, Hermann Geiger and Fernand Martignoni died in aerial accidents, totalising more than 16.000 flight hours for Geiger and more than 17.000 for Martignoni.

You will find some fine reports on those two exceptional pilots in the archives of the Radio-Télévision Suisse:

 

Click on picture
 

Sunrise...the activity will begin
Arolla's helipad and water off-take Simply amazing...

"Wide landing"

Glacier de Pièces Seracs
We are so little in face to the majesty of the mountains Downhill from Cabane des Vignettes's shelter (3157m)
Bell 407GX from AlpinLift (HB-ZNW)
Air Glacier in action
Aerospatiale AS350B2 Ecureuil from Heli-Alps (HB-ZIL) In flight to the cabane des Dix's shelter
Skibox on the right skate
"La Maya" in the background (3040m) Aerospatiale AS350B3 Ecureuil from Heli TV (HB-ZLV)
Mont-Collon's glacier suspended
The peak "Pigne d'Arolla" (3790m)
Aerospatiale AS350B3 Ecureuil from Eagle (F-HAEN)
Cabane des dix's shelter refueling
Sud Aviation SA315B Lama from Air Glacier (HB-XTO) Aerospatiale AS350B3 Ecureuil from Air Glacier (HB-ZUT)
Visual of the "Pas de Chèvre's pass"
Balloon above "Lac de Gruyère" Vaud's country
Day is over... Night view of the Mont-Collon (3636m)...

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