Bergrettung Ehrwald | © Bergrettung Ehrwald

Mountain rescue: guardian angels in the mountains

Mountain rescue is called out in the event of accidents on the mountain. Regina Poberschnigg and Markus Wolf talk about their work and what the professionals want from their "patients".

A sharp twinge. The right leg. Probably sprained. Maybe even more. Annemarie contorts her face in pain. She's stuck at an altitude of 2,300 meters. And now?

Annemarie is a passionate mountain sportswoman - but sometimes she just has bad luck. Like on her tour at the weekend, where her right leg slipped and now she can't go any further - let alone back. Anyone who feels injured or unwell in alpine terrain, as she does, should call mountain rescue as soon as possible. Because usually one cannot estimate even, how serious the situation actually is.

In addition, many people forget that the mountain rescue service takes much longer to reach the patient than the urban rescue service: if rescuers in large cities have the requirement to be at the scene of an accident within ten minutes, there are no such regulations for their colleagues in the alpine regions. "For us, that would just be madness, because we have to be extremely careful about protecting ourselves. Under time pressure, you forget everything important and end up endangering not only yourself, but also colleagues and patients," Regina Poberschnigg knows. She is the local branch manager of the Ehrwald mountain rescue team and has been involved for 20 years. She is also a true pioneer in the field: she was the first woman ever to be accepted into the Tyrol Mountain Rescue Service. To do this, a few laws first had to be changed back then.

Attractiveness of the mountains grows - countless accidents included

According to Regina, more and more people are drawn to the mountains. How does she notice this? There are sometimes a disproportionate number of missions. "People are becoming more and more sporty. Plus, you have so many options here: Going up on e-bikes is a current trend, but hiking and mountaineering remain popular. And right now, when there's still snow in the mountains, it's of course the ski tourers who are out and about with us."

At the same time, the many missions are not necessarily due to the equipment of the athletes. Markus Wolf, district manager of the Reutte Mountain Rescue Service and head of the Berwang/Namlos local station, emphasizes, "Mountaineers and climbers in particular are very well equipped today." However, this looks different with the hikers, because they often overestimate themselves, underestimate the tour or simply have too little clothing and food with them: "A warm tea always belongs in the backpack, even in summer," advises Markus. Because vacationers usually forget that although it may be warm at the foot of the mountain, temperatures at 2,000 meters above sea level are quite different.

Bergrettung: "Wir werden lieber zu früh als zu spät gerufen"

Unfortunately, however, there are not only the victims of exhaustion: "When we have climbing missions, it is not uncommon for them to be falls or serious injuries. That can have dramatic consequences if we as rescuers don't watch what we're doing," Markus knows. "Because it's easy to say, 'He just broke his knuckle.' But if the femur is broken, about three liters of blood can seep out. That becomes life-threatening within a few minutes!"

Both experts agree: it's better to dial 140 in time than too late. Because even minor injuries can overwhelm the inexperienced mountain visitor. In addition, it gets dark faster in the mountains - it is not uncommon for rescuers to then no longer be able to board the helicopter. The ascent therefore takes much longer and the area is slower and more difficult to search in the dark and from the ground.

An insider tip from Markus and Regina is the emergency app of the Mountain Rescue Tyrol: you can download it for free and then you just have to press a button to be connected directly. Using GPS, the location is forwarded and the rescuers immediately know where to look. Also, an important note from them: By a rescue sometimes extremely high costs arise, because the health insurance companies do not take over. Therefore one should make oneself before an excursion absolutely thoughts about a suitable recovery insurance. An advantage for sponsors of the Mountain Rescue Tyrol: Here, a worldwide mountain insurance cover is included.

How does mountain rescue get to the patient?

But what happens if something does happen? If an emergency is reported to the control center, the mountain rescuers are immediately alerted. They arrive at their local station as quickly as possible and get ready. According to Regina, teams of at least three people are now always sent out even for smaller missions, because in the past the situation was sometimes underestimated. And of course, the worse the initial situation, the more rescuers. There is enough equipment to carry: a mountain backpack, a stretcher for transporting people away, two ropes with 200 meters each. Also, a tent in case you can't descend immediately, drills if you need to drill a belay, carabiner pulleys and hooks, and medical first aid equipment and thermal management. Especially the latter is a very important point for the rescuers, because a weakened or injured body quickly loses heat

Always hurry but never rush

If you can cover a section of the route with the gondola or the snow groomers, then the mountain rescue team will resort to it. However, the rule is: you only go as far as you can go back without endangering your own safety. The younger and fitter rescuers go ahead as vanguard and take care of the first aid. But everyone is needed in mountain rescue: Because you don't just have to be fast or athletic, technical skill and strength are also important. Once the patient has arrived, everything is done to get him back on the dam. In this case, our Annemarie. According to experts, her ankle is only sprained, but she can no longer walk downhill. Therefore, she is wrapped in a blanket, placed on the stretcher and brought safely back to the valley by the team of the Mountain Rescue Tyrol. That just turned out to be a minor incident!

By the way: Regina Poberschnigg and Markus Wolf answered our questions on even more topics. You can find the exciting interview in the GRENZENLOS Winter 2017/18 issue, which you can access in the free GRENZENLOS app (for Android or iOS) or here as a browser version.