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Fixed Line Aerial Rescue Operations - Pilot and Rescuer is a critical partnership

When a mountain safety rescue program is initiated one of the key considerations is going to be effective extrication.  Once an emergency is called out the clock starts ticking.  For a patient that is critically injured as rescuers we understand that getting them to a higher level of care within the “Golden Hour” is one of the key components to a successful operation.  For programs working in remote terrain the most effective form of patient extrication is going to involve the use of a helicopter.  There are two main ways to extricate with a helicopter, one is through establishing a landing zone and the other option is HETS or short haul rescue.  In both of these situations the relationship between rescuer and pilot need to be extremely close.

The relationship needs to be established from the initial introduction.  A thorough helicopter briefing is generally the point of first contact between the pilot and rescuer.  It is important that both parties realize each others limitations when it comes to both flight and rescue.  One thing to keep in mind is that every pilot and rescuer operate differently and have different abilities and experience from previous pilots or rescuers they have worked with.  Understanding this from the start will develop a mutual respect for each other and allow for a fluid rescue  when the call out is made.


When it comes to ground base rescue with the use of a helicopter for extrication,  it is critical that the rescuer knows what the pilot is looking for in a landing zone, what side of the machine the pilot prefers to load patients on and how the pilot would like the rescuer to approach the machine once landed.  If the pilot has full confidence that the rescuer understands what he or she is looking for than less time will be spent when flying into to pick up the patient.  Relaying information to the pilot upon approach about position off the nose, ground cover, vegetation, wind speed and direction can also be useful when making an approach and landing.  The rescuer also needs to make a decision based on the patients condition as to whether or not they are going to shut down the helicopter or load the machine hot.

For performing HETS or short haul rescue the two need to work as one cohesive team to perform the rescue effectively.  In this form of rescue the two are essentially joined to the machine through the use of a rope, lanyard, safety hooks and the controls of the helicopter.  The pilot and rescuer communicate through essential hand signals and radio comms.  Recurrency training and meetings between the two parties to go over pre flight checks, rigging of the machine, reconnaissance flight checklists, pre plan mission and conducting the mission is essential for performing a flawless operation when the time comes. The critical time of a HETS missions success occurs in the planning phase involving detailed discussion between pilot and rescuer.  There really is no such thing as too much time spent on training when it comes to performing good, safe effective rescues.


During missions each party needs to communicate their knowledge on the situation. Assumptions can not be made. For example, a rescuer should voice concerns regarding an insertion location ground conditions and expect the pilots to understand the hazards faced by the techs. Conversely, a pilot should openly discuss the flying conditions so that the rescuer can offer alternate methods for a rescue if necessary.

To keep the partnerships strong every new rescuer and pilot showing up on site need to introduce themselves, become familiar with how each one works differently and make the the time to run over a couple moc scenarios and discuss the outcome and what works and does not work for each party.  After every rescue a thorough debrief needs to occur as well outlining the highlights and what can be taken away to improve upon.  In this industry it is important to understand that the learning process is a continuous path and at the end of the day coming home safely is priority number one for both the pilot and the rescuer.

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