A 75-year-old man saves the lives of two others after a heli-skiing accident and miraculously survives | The Mountaineer | Sports

The powder snow conditions heralded a perfect day of heli-skiing in the Swiss canton of Valais. It is not always easy to have at the same time safe flying conditions, clement weather and virgin snow waiting for the flow of skiers without there being a serious danger of avalanches. On April 2, everything fell into place for the American guide Adam George and his four clients to take off shortly after nine in the morning: a short flight awaited them to the top of Petit Combin (3,668 meters), from where the group planned face nearly 2,000 meters of descent gradient only suitable for expert skiers. They didn’t get to put on their skis. As soon as the skid of the device touched the snow, it tilted, falling on its side, immediately sliding on the steep slope of the northern slope of the mountain. Witnesses from the valley later claimed that an avalanche fatally swept the helicopter, but the Swiss Safety Investigation Service has not yet determined the precise causes of the accident. Both the pilot, Jerôme Lovey, and the guide and one of the clients, the American James Goff, died in the accident. Brothers Teddy and Guy Hitchens, as well as Edward Courage, all from the United Kingdom, survived and were evacuated to Sion Hospital.

Determination and chance teamed up to avoid an even greater catastrophe. Courage, based in Verbier, is a ski enthusiast despite being 75 years old, a devotion that is not strange in a country with a huge tradition of mountain skiers who extend their passion for snow far beyond retirement. Therefore, when he checked the snow conditions, he did not want to miss such a promising day. According to him he explained to The TelegraphSeconds before landing, Courage released his seat belt to anticipate the quick disembarkation maneuver specific to this type of activity. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the pole stuck in the snow that helps the pilot perfectly locate the place to place the device. Then, horrified, he witnessed a chaotic situation: the helicopter overturned and began to fall down the slope. Courage was able to open the door, push one of the Hitchens brothers out, grab the other and jump out in his turn. Like in an action movie. It all happened so quickly that he can barely explain how he had the reflexes to act with such determination.

Jumping off the device was, however, the beginning of a new odyssey. The Hitchens brothers slid down the north face until they stopped close to each other: their rescue was very quick. Courage, on the other hand, continued rolling down the very steep slope, engulfed in an avalanche. His trip ended 500 meters lower, at the bottom of a crevasse. The crack, he said, had an unknown depth, but he was fortunate enough to fall on a snow bridge, 30 meters deep. He broke several bones, but he did not lose consciousness and had the reflex to send out distress signals with his cell phone. After five hours of searching and an operation that involved seven more helicopters, the police found Courage thanks to the avalanche victim detector he was carrying and which, by protocol, all clients and the guide must have turned on and emitting when they access the apparatus.

In the same region of Valais, a helicopter with only the pilot on board crashed in the middle of last February, while a second device suffered an accident in mid-March, on a training flight, with no fatalities. Instead, one day before the Petit Combin accident, an avalanche killed three skiers in the area of ​​the Swiss town of Zermatt, at the foot of the Matterhorn.

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