New UIAA recommendations provides guidance for alpine helicopter rescue personnel

Helicopter evacuation of injured from Everest Base Camp after Nepal earthquake triggered avlanche (Photo: CNN)

Some of the most dangerous missions by crews of helicopter rescue services take place on snow, ice and rock faces on mountains under difficult and complex conditions.

Responders face a multitude of stressors and risk factors like extreme noise levels, cold, high workload, environmental factors (rock or icefall, slippery or ice capped terrain), and so much more.

“Additionally they must be able to communicate closely and to notice several types of warning signs to perform the operation safely,” says a new paper published by the UIAA Medical Commission.

“This multitude of factors is not taken into account by standard procedures of aviation medicine for medical check-up of the crew members as it does not differentiate between pilots and those team members who do the winch operation and / or work in the field,” the paper continues.

It’s the key reason why the UIAA Medical Commission has decided to add the paper titled Occupational Aspects of Alpine Helicopter Rescue Operations as Volume 23 of its popular and widely regarded recommendations about mountain medicine. They are authored by experts who are physicians with wide experience in mountain medicine issues and range from advice on diarrhoea to contraception at altitude.

The new paper is intended for physicians, occupational health and safety advisors, rescue personnel and interested non-medical persons and is authored by UIAA Medical Commission members Dr. Thomas Küpper, Dr. Voker Schöffl and Dr. Ulf Gieseler.

The paper was first presented to the UIAA Medical Commission at its annual meeting meeting at Kalymnos, Greece in May 2015 as part of the paper on the Work in Hypoxic Conditions but the commission decided to present it as an independent recommendation.

In clear and concise language, the paper gives advice to responders on how to decide if there should be individual health risks of crew members.

“The procedure and the criteria for decision making may also be used when crew members should be reintegrated after disease,” the paper notes. “It should be mentioned, that this procedure is not obligatory by law, although it includes the checks and criteria for helicopter pilots. Helicopter pilots must be checked according to the respective international regulations.”

Please click here or visit the Recommendations page to read the full paper and other advice sheets by the Medical Commission.

Please click here for more information about the UIAA Medical Commission and its work including the Mountain Medicine Diploma.