PROFESSIONAL MOUNTAIN SEARCH AND RESCUE
With thousands of volunteers, mountain search and rescue (Mountain Rescue) is ready to provide rapid, efficient, 24/7 help in an (avalanche) emergency in the mountains.
THE BASICS OF ORGANIZED MOUNTAIN SEARCH AND RESCUE
THE BASICS OF ORGANIZED MOUNTAIN SEARCH AND RESCUE
EMERGENCY CALL, EMERGENCY NUMBERS, THE FOUR Ws and HOW MANY
An avalanche should – parallel to the companion rescue with an avalanche transceiver search – always be reported immediately if possible, so that the organized mountain search and rescue can hurry to help as quickly as possible. The coordinator should appoint one person to make an emergency call outside of the avalanche deposit zone. Their avalanche transceiver should be switched to “standby” or “off”. Their cell phone should remain switched on so that they can answer any questions.
A burial victim’s chance of survival can hinge on how quickly organized mountain search and rescue reach the accident site. It is especially critical if there is no avalanche transceiver signal, if it is unclear how many people have been caught in the avalanche, or if the avalanche victims are buried very deep.
Calling 112, the European emergency number, anywhere in Europe will always connect you to a rescue coordination center that will forward the accident report to the appropriate rescue service. Different countries and regions also have special emergency numbers that will connect you directly to the local mountain search and rescue service; the most important of these are: 140 (Austria), 1414 (Switzerland). It’s best to save these local emergency numbers on your cell phone.
Alternatively, there are free emergency apps such as the SOS EU ALP app (for Bavaria, Austria and South Tyrol) and the Rega app (for Switzerland), which not only place emergency calls but also automatically send your location (GPS coordinates) and important additional information.
The mountain rescue team will then make their way to the avalanche deposit zone the quickest way possible – on skis, a snowmobile or with helicopter, depending on where the accident occurred – to begin implementing rescue measures.
ORGANIZATION IS PARAMOUNT
Avalanches are always extremely stressful situations for everyone involved. Good organization is essential so that everyone is able to act correctly and contribute together to saving lives. As soon as the organized mountain search and rescue is on site, the head of operations will coordinate the rescue effort, assign roles and instruct the helpers. The more training and education the helpers have, the more smoothly and efficiently the rescue will run.
ORGANIZED RESCUE SEARCH METHODS AND RESCUE OPERATIONS
Rescue will be particularly difficult if burial victims do not have avalanche transceivers or if the devices are not transmitting because they are switched off. Therefore, organized search and rescue generally employ different search methods simultaneously. In addition to an avalanche transceiver search, professional mountain rescue teams also use RECCO detectors, slalom probing and avalanche search and rescue dogs to locate burial victims.
AVALANCHE SEARCH & RESCUE DOGS
If it is not possible to conduct a search using electronic aids such as avalanche transceivers or RECCO detectors, trained search and rescue dogs are often the only way to efficiently search large areas without spending a long time probing. Therefore, search and rescue dogs will be at every avalanche the mountain rescue team attend. Important: Do not interrupt or distract the dog when it is searching! This means you should never talk to the dog and never eat, drink or do your business in the avalanche deposit zone.
AVALANCHE TRANSCEIVER SEARCH
Even when the mountain rescue team is engaging in a professional rescue effort, the avalanche transceiver search is the number one priority. If you happen upon an avalanche accident close to the slope as a “passerby” and want to help, you should switch your avalanche transceiver to search mode, talk to the responsible head of operations and offer to help with the shoveling or probing. Under no circumstances should you jump into the rescue effort without instruction.
A RECCO detector is an additional electronic search device that is used when nobody is able to receive a transceiver signal in the avalanche deposit zone. The detector sends out a search beam that is reflected by RECCO reflectors integrated into clothing, helmets, ski boots and other equipment. This way, burial victims can be precisely located.
A RECCO detector search can be done from the ground and from a helicopter. It is important that the searcher can work with the RECCO detector in peace – reflectors in other rescuers’ equipment could create interfering signals if they are too close.
If neither electronic aids or avalanche search and rescue dogs are available or successful, slalom probing is the last search method on an avalanche deposit zone. In this method, the rescuers stand in a line and systematically walk the deposit zone step by step, inserting a probe after each step. When the head of operations gives the command “forward”, the rescuers each take a step forward; on the command “probe”, they insert their probes.
This search method requires a great deal of time and man power. If you come across an avalanche accident as a “passerby”, you can always help by joining the slalom probing effort – assuming you have the right equipment and know how to probe. (Source: mountainsafety.info)
CONVEYOR BELT SHOVELING
Once you have located the burial victim, it is time to probe and then shovel. Systematic shoveling can gain important time that can save lives.
The snow conveyor belt has established itself as the best shoveling strategy. Here, the shoveling area is split into several segments – depending on how many shovelers are available. Either one or two people then dig within each of these segments.
The aim is to create a wide access ramp to the burial victim and dig toward their head as quickly as possible. If a shoveler at the front gets tired, they should switch places; or you should rotate positions every 60 seconds from the outset. As soon as you get close to the burial victim, start working carefully toward the head – at the end it is best to dig with your hands to avoid causing injury – then clear their airway. After this, the burial victim is to be completely freed and given first aid. (Source: mountainsafety.info)