Helicopter Rescue

Climbers can communicate with air rescuers by constructing international ground symbols, which are familiar to most pilots (fig. 17-9). The symbols, signaling such information as the need for a doctor, should be 8 to 12 feet high with lines 1 foot wide. It's a good idea to keep a copy of the symbols in your first-aid kit.

All well

Require doctor Require medical supplies Require food and water Unable to proceed

Am proceeding in this direction

Indicate direction to proceed

Not understood Yes No

Safe to land here Fig. 17-9. Ground-to-air signals

The helicopter revolutionized mountain rescue. It can pluck climbers from cliffs and glaciers and get them to hospitals in hours rather than the days sometimes required by ground transport, often meaning the difference between life and death. A helicopter takes on a load by landing, or by hovering and lowering a sling or a stretcher on a cablc attached to a power winch. Climbers need to know some of the requirements and limitations of helicopter operation.

The most important factors governing a helicopter's ability to evacuate are visibility, wind velocity and turbulence, and air density. In mountain flight, continual visual contact with the ground is essential, so a helicopter can't operate in poor weather. It can maneuver safely in winds up to about 35 miles per hour, with a wind of about 10 miles per hour being better than still air. A dangerous turbulence usually accompanies high wind. The altitude to which a helicopter can fly depends on air density, which decreases as either altitude or temperature increases. Thinner air reduces the lifting force of the rotor blades.

The people on the ground should try to prepare a helicopter landing zone that has a 360-degree choice of landing and takeoff direction, so the pilot can land or take off into the prevailing wind. Clear an area at least 100 feet in diameter around the touchdown pad, removing obstacles such as brush and loose objects. Make the area as level as possible, with a slope of not more than 8 percent. Try to establish a landing zone where the helicopter can drop downward as it takes off rather than having to fly upward.

Mark the landing area with colored tape or brightly colored objects, and use streamers, plastic ribbon, or smoke to indicate wind direction. Put the wind indicators at the edge or downwind of the landing area so they don't obstruct the pilot's vision. It is urgent that all loose items near the landing zone be well secured, especially those used to mark the boundaries. If the helicopter lowers equipment, allow it to touch ground first to dissipate static electricity.

A couple of arm signals can be important. If there is a last-minute danger to the helicopter, sig



nal "do not land" by holding your arms straight out horizontally from your sides and moving them to over your head several times. If your party has been unable to mark wind direction or landing site, members of the group should stand with arms extended toward the landing area and the wind at their backs. This signals to the pilot: "Land where we are pointing; our backs are into the wind."

Several safety precautions will minimize hazards from a helicopter. Stay away from cliff edges or anywhere else where you might be injured if you are knocked over by the helicopter rotor's powerful down-wash winds. Watch out for flying debris, use eye protection, and have all gear safely secured. Approach the helicopter only after signalled to do so by the pilot or a crew member, and then duck down and approach or leave from near the front so the pilot can always see you. Don't approach or leave the helicopter from any side where the ground is higher than where the helicopter is standing, and beware of the rear rotor, which is nearly invisible when spinning. If you're not needed near the helicopter, stay at least 75 feet away from the landing area.

Keep the victim's safety in mind as you prepare for the helicopter evacuation. Secure the person and any gear so there are no loose straps, ropes, or clothing; shield the person's face and eyes from flying debris and assure proper respiration. It takes time to secure an ill or injured climber to a stretcher. Remember that the person's safety is at stake and don't be rushed into this critical job just because the helicopter is waiting. Rescuers who put their training to use in a caring and efficient manner can often bring a happy ending to what may have been a long and difficult rescue effort.

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