Will a rescue helicopter be stationed temporarily in Saanen?

Fri, 12. Mar. 2021

The municipality wants to station a Rega helicopter in Saanen for night-time rescue missions from December to April. This idea is not new and could soon be implemented.

"This project is part of a large-scale improvement in primary healthcare in the Simmental-Saanenland region," explains Saanen's president of the municipality Toni von Grünigen, referring to a municipal assembly in 2019, at which the wish for a standby rescue helicopter stationed in Saanen for night missions during the winter months was reiterated. In response, the municipality, together with various aviation partners, examined the possibility of a temporary base for twin-engine rescue helicopters from Saanen. The president of the municipality stresses that the aim is to improve first-aid services in the entire Simmental-Saanenland region during the winter months and not to relocate the Rega base from Zweisimmen to Saanen.

Tests revealed potential for improvement
"During a trial period, Rega stationed a rescue helicopter at Gstaad Airport each night for the first time in winter 2018/19 and the crew stood by for missions in a flat in the former Saanen Hospital," confirms Rega media spokesperson Mathias Gehrig upon request. This night-time operational readiness in Saanen was ensured by the Rega crew in Zweisimmen, which flew daily to Saanen for this purpose during the trial period. "However, these daily overflights from Zweisimmen to Saanen made neither ecological nor economic sense," says Thomas Bollmann, administrative director of the municipality of Saanen. They were loud, unnecessary and the helicopter crew was stationed much too far away from the helicopter. In order to reduce these overflights, it was decided in the run-up to winter 2019/20 to ensure night-time operational readiness from Saanen airfield only in uncertain weather conditions and otherwise to take off from Zweisimmen for rescue missions, Rega further explains, adding that the same concept had also been applied for the current winter 2020/21. These tests have shown that – should a rescue helicopter be stationed at Saanen from time to time in the future – the necessary infrastructure must be improved. To this end, the Gstaad-Saanenland Airfield Cooperative (FGGS) has submitted a building application.

Mezzanine floor in the operations hangar
According to the building application, the FGGS plans to install an intermediate floor in the operating hangar. This request is not new, but was postponed for cost reasons during the construction of the new airport building. "We currently have a need for space and are submitting an application for the realisation of this floor," says a letter from Gstaad Airport AG enclosed with the building application. "The plan is to use this intermediate floor to set up premises for operating a rescue base with sleeping and recreation rooms, offices and sanitary facilities," explains Martin Rufener, CEO of Gstaad Airport AG.

The purpose is the possibility to place the night rescue team in Saanen in the immediate vicinity of the rescue helicopter rather than in the old hospital. Additionally, the following provision should also be added to the FGGS operating regulations: "Search, rescue, ambulance and official transport flights are not subject to any time restrictions." Construction costs are estimated at CHF 1.5m. Since guests of the Saanenland and chalet owners also back the idea of a rescue helicopter temporarily stationed in Saanen, as the municipality reveals, they would also contribute to the financing. But the exact split of the cost between the parties involved remains the subject of further discussions.

And the Air-Glaciers?
For Air-Glaciers, which has had a helicopter base in Saanenland since 1989, this project means on the one hand a strengthening of Gstaad Airport, and on the other offers additional possibilities and more flexibility for themselves. Bernhard Vogel, CEO of Sion-based Air-Glaciers, points out that it already offers a 24-hour emergency medical service during the winter season. During the day with a helicopter, at night with an ambulance. Now Air-Glaciers is "seriously considering bringing a twin-engine helicopter to the Saanenland for rescue purposes". Vogel explains that the region is close to Air-Glaciers' heart and they have always been committed to the Saanenland, "and we will continue to do so in the future!"

Based on AvS/Kerem S. Maurer

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