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Subchapter: Alpine emergency situations

Alpine emergency situations - acting correctly

In contrast to areas with well-established infrastructure, factors specific to alpine terrain make rescues more difficult.

The first responder is therefore of lifesaving importance to the accident victim. In an emergency they are the first person to provide help and need to have mastered first-aid techniques.

The following emergency algorithm clarifies important instructions for first responders.

Taking a deep breath / taking stock

Before the responder gets to work, they should take a physical and mental step back and take a deep breath. Only if the responder is in a reasonably calm mental state can they make good decisions. When the first responder takes stock of the overall situation this allows them to recognize objective hazards, judge the accident and consider their next steps.

First aid in the mountains

Your own safety is paramount! In alpine climbing, the rope team will often be in precipitous terrain and at risk of falling rocks or ice and other hazards. You need to ensure your own safety before helping injured people! In a worst-case scenario, if it is too dangerous to help yourself, you should make an emergency call and wait for a professional rescue team.

Group protection

If there are several people at the site of the accident, the safety of the group must be ensured (particularly during guided climbs). Only then can first responders go to help the accident victim.

Secure the dangerous area

The dangerous area should be secured for the protection of yourself and others: For example the accident site can be cordoned off or visibly marked. While securing the accident scene on the rock face is often not possible or necessary, it can be necessary for accidents during ascent or descent in order to prevent further damage.

Rescue from the dangerous area

Is the accident victim in a precipitous location? Is there a risk of falling rocks or ice? If the accident scene is at risk of objective hazards, the individual should be moved out of the dangerous area and taken a short distance to a safe location – as long as this is appropriate for the responders and does not endanger their own safety. In precipitous terrain the first responder must protect themselves and the injured person from further slips or falls. If this is not possible, the responder’s only other option is to make an emergency call and wait for a professional rescue team.

Heavy bleeding

If there is heavy bleeding, this must be treated immediately with a pressure bandage. This is done before speaking to the accident victim and irrespective of whether they are conscious or unconscious.

Checking consciousness

The first responder should kneel down next to the injured person and speak to them. If the injured person does not react, the first responder should shake them gently and attempt to speak to them again in a louder voice.

Any time someone becomes unconscious it represents an acute risk to life. Here lifesaving emergency measures are always the number one priority!

Please choose a state of consciousness:
When spoken to, the accident victim reacts in a manner appropriate to the situation.
Not responsive
In the event of unconsciousness you should make an emergency call IMMEDIATELY!
When spoken to, the accident victim reacts in a manner appropriate to the situation.
Has the accident victim fallen?
Body check
Person’s symptoms
Make an emergency call
Wound dressings
Make an emergency call
Desired positioning
Heat retention
Psychological support
Wait for the mountain rescue service
In the event of unconsciousness you should make an emergency call IMMEDIATELY!
Check breathing
The person is breathing
The person is not breathing
Stable recovery position
Resuscitation 30: 2
Check breathing
Heat retention
Psychological support
Wait for the mountain rescue service

Get help

While in some mountain regions there can be good cell reception even at an altitude of 4,000 meters, in other secluded regions it may be impossible to make an emergency call with a cell phone. Here the alpine distress signal is the means of communication. The distress signal can also be helpful for mountain search and rescue if they are having trouble locating the exact accident site.

If the rescue team comes by air, it provides useful information that makes working with the helicopter easier.

Emergency Call Alpine distress signal Air rescue


Anyone out in alpine terrain must be able to provide first aid in case of an emergency. The important thing is to stay calm and act intelligently. An emergency call must be made immediately depending on the severity of the emergency: Knowing the correct emergency number is essential for every mountaineer.

In the case of insufficient cell service at the site of the accident, the procedure used to be: Turn off your cell phone, turn it back on again (without entering the PIN) and instead type in 112 to place a call to emergency services in Europe. Your phone can now locate sufficient cell service from another network provider.

These days all smartphones have an “emergency call function” that can be accessed without unlocking your cell phone – and is shown even without a roaming signal. If there is still no cell service and it is not possible to make a call using the emergency call function, the only thing that will help is a change of location.

NOTE: Sometimes it is not possible to make an emergency call, but it is possible to send a text message or WhatsApp. It is therefore sensible to inform a contact person before the climb so that you can send them a text/WhatsApp in the event of an accident (“112, site of accident, problem”). The recipient can make the emergency call, pass on the information and answer briefly.


If it is absolutely impossible to make a call by phone, the alpine distress signal can be used to signal a mountain emergency situation. The emergency call is made using light signals, smoke signals or by waving and is recognized throughout the Alps.


  • 6 signals, 10 seconds apart / 1 min rest / 6 signals, 10 seconds apart / etc.

The signal can be visual (headlamp, mirror, waving with a jacket or similar) or acoustic (whistle, shouting). The procedure should be repeated until you get an answer.

The answer usually takes the following form:

  • 3 3 signals per minute / 1 min rest / 3 signals per minute

The distress signals and the answer do not need to be identical.


You’ve made the emergency call and air rescue have been informed. Air rescue are professionals, but the first responder can still make their work easier en route and protect themselves and their partner from hazards at the same time.

  1. The helicopter approaches the accident scene. The signal should be given to the pilot that help is needed. Both arms in the air signals “YES – HELP”.
  2. Shortly before landing the helicopter often makes a recon approach before turning away and then coming back. The first responder should not panic if the helicopter starts flying away. When the helicopter makes it landing approach, the first responder and the injured person should get to a safe place and sit in a crouched position until the helicopter has landed.
  3. The wind caused by the rotors produces a so-called downwash, which can swirl up loose objects. Equipment should be safely stowed so that nothing can fly around.
  4. The helicopter lands. Either the crew will come to the responder and the injured person or will give the signal that they can approach the helicopter.