Mountain rescue

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Helicopter rescue on Mount Shasta in California
Mountain rescue with a Helicopter in the Alps, where landing is not possible
Lowering a litter on a steep slope (training)
A mountain SAR rescue team of Alpini Meteomont, Italy

Mountain rescue refers to search and rescue activities that occur in a mountainous environment, although the term is sometimes also used to apply to search and rescue in other wilderness environments. This tends to include mountains with technical rope access issues, snow, avalanches, ice, crevasses, glaciers, alpine environments and high altitudes. The difficult and remote nature of the terrain in which mountain rescue often occurs has resulted in the development of a number of specific pieces of equipment and techniques. Helicopters are often used to quickly extract casualties, and search dogs may be deployed to find a casualty.

Car of Horská služba (Czech Republic)
Special stretcher for mountain rescue (Black Forest)

Mountain rescue services may be paid professionals or volunteer professionals. Paid rescue services are more likely to exist in places with a high demand such as the Alps, national parks with mountain terrain and many ski resorts. However, the labor-intensive and occasional nature of mountain rescue, along with the specific techniques and local knowledge required for some environments, means that mountain rescue is often undertaken by voluntary teams. These are frequently made up of local climbers and guides. Often paid rescue services may work in co-operation with voluntary services. For instance, a paid helicopter rescue team may work with a volunteer mountain rescue team on the ground. Mountain rescue is often free, although in some parts of the world rescue organizations may charge for their services. But there are also exceptions, e.g. Switzerland, where mountain rescue is highly expensive (some 2000 to 4000 USD) and will be charged to the patient. In more remote or less-developed parts of the world organized mountain rescue services are often negligible or non-existent.

A rescue helicopter in the Bavarian Alps.
Rappelling from a helicopter in the Alps.
A mountain rescue team operating at Alpe d'Huez, France.

By country[edit]


The Mountain Rescue Service of Italy, is provider by CNSAS (corpo nazionale soccorso alpino e speleologico) a voluntary agency that provides nationwide mountain search and rescue operations in difficult terrains in close cooperations with the Medical Air Rescue Service 118, with Meteomont army Team and Police of Italy under the phone number 112- EU standard integrated emergency service. The main missions are search and rescue, avalanche response, first aid, surveillance of mountain areas, prevention of accidents, and public safety.


In the five national parks of the Canadian Rockies, mountain rescue is solely the responsibility of Parks Canada's, Mountain Safety Program Specialists. Voluntary self-registration is available at information centers and warden offices whereby if a climbing party does not contact Parks Canada by a predetermined day and time, Parks Canada will initiate a search. However, parties should be self-reliant and not expect a search to begin until the next day (Parks Canada will usually initiate a search the same day if weather and daylight permits). Search and rescue costs are currently paid for by park entrance fees.

Czech Republic[edit]

The Mountain Rescue Service (Horská služba České republiky, HS ČR) of the Czech republic provides nationwide mountain rescue operations and search and rescue operations in difficult terrains in close cooperations with the Air Rescue Service and Police of the Czech Republic. It is a part of the integrated rescue system in the Czech Republic and can be reached under the phone number 1210 (paid number) or under 112 - EU standard integrated emergency service.


French Gendarmerie rescue helicopter taking off on the Massif du Sancy mountains (France), in 2005.
Car of French Police nationale's CRS mountain unit

The Gendarmerie Nationale and the Police nationale are in charge of mountain rescuing. Being a paramilitary police force with law-enforcement assignments, the Gendarmerie has a wide variety of missions, mainly: –search and rescue −surveillance of mountain areas -law enforcement -prevention of accidents and safety of public -deliver expert reports before the courts

The Gendarmerie employs 260 gendarmes, divided in 20 units nationwide; -15 Peloton de Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM)(high mountain) sprinkled in the Alps and the Pyrénées, in addition to the islands of Réunion in the Indian Ocean and Corsica. −5 Peloton de Gendarmerie de Montagne, in the Massif central and Vosges areas. 90 per cent of interventions are made by air.

The Police's Compagnie républicaine de sécurité are as well providing mountain search and rescue both in French Alps and Pyrenees alternatively with the PGHM.


Switzerland have an incredibly dense network of alpine rescue and relief organisations. Most of the rescue are operated by the Swiss REGA (German: Schweizerische Rettungsflugwacht, French: Garde aérienne suisse de sauvetage, Rega), a non-profit organisation that provide alpine rescue with its fleet of 17 medical helicopters, including 11 Agusta A109 SP Grand "Da Vinci", used both in ground support of paramedical personnel than frontline alpine rescue. The Swiss Rega have two very distinctive characteristics : they can reach any place in Switzerland under 15 minutes, due to their 10 bases, and they are medicalized. This means an emergency physician (mostly an anesthesist) will be on the flight to provide advanced treatment.

The Swiss canton of Valais doesn't use the Rega, they have their own rescue fleet, named Air Glacier and Air Zermatt. They have similar colours, procedures and personnel.

The Swiss army is also used in frontline rescue of civilians. Their many mountain battalions are commonly used in collaboration with the Rega, due to their manpower, heavy equipment and proven experience of collaboration with civilian authorities. The Swiss army is also known for using Horses (Franches-Montagnes) as part of mountain logistic regiments.

Hong Kong[edit]

The Civil Aid Service, Mountain Rescue Unit (M.R.U.) was established in 1967 due to the demand for a mountain rescue service. At first, the M.R.U. had two separate command centres, one in Hong Kong Island, and the other in the Kowloon Peninsula. The two command centres merged in 1972 to a single centre based at the Civil Aid Service headquarters in Kowloon. In 2005, the M.R.U. was renamed the "Mountain Search and Rescue Company" (MSaR). The Mountain Search and Rescue Company of the Civil Aid Service is responsible for rescue operations in the hills and hiking trails of Hong Kong. As of 2014 the Company has 13 officers and 128 members.[1] The unit works alongside the Government Flying Service in the air and Hong Kong Fire Services on the ground. Besides rescue operations, MSaR also help promote mountaineering safety.


Mountain Rescue services in Ireland operate under the umbrella association of Mountain Rescue Ireland (Cumann Tarrthála Sléibhte na h-Éireann in Irish) (Irish Mountain Rescue Association) (IMRA).[2]


PZL W-3 - helicopter TOPR


The Mountain Rescue Service (Horská záchranná služba, HZS) of Slovakia is a civilian agency that provides nationwide mountain rescue operations and Search and Rescue operations in difficult terrains in close cooperation with the Air Rescue Service. It is a part of the integrated rescue system in Slovakia and can be reached under the phone number 18300 or under 112 - EU standard integrated emergency service.


Since 1981 the Guardia Civil's Search and Rescue Group (Grupo de Rescate e Intervención en Montaña-GREIM) has been responsible for mountain rescue in all Spain except Catalonia. Until that date mountain rescue was provided by volunteers. The unit is divided into:

  • Special Mountain Unit
  • Expeditionary Alpine Group
  • Competition Team
  • Special Mountain training Center

The Group comprises 250 members who undergo 10 months training in a specialized training center in Candanchu. The unit is divided into 5 regions (Jaca, Cangas de Onís, Navacerrada, Granada, Vielha e Mijaran). In 2011 they carried out 761 missions.

In Catalonia is the special fire department division GRAE (Support Group for Special Actions) who is responsible for mountain rescue.

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, mountain rescue is mostly a free service, provided by volunteers. Each team is an independent charity, and are linked together by regional organizations and national bodies. In England and Wales this is Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) and in Scotland, MRCofS[3]. HRH Prince William is the patron of MREW. Mountain Rescue services are also provided by the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Services (RAFMRS).[4][5]

United States[edit]

In the United States, mountain search and rescue is a technical specialty within general search and rescue. It is handled by 'career, on-duty and on-call paid' teams within the national parks, and supplemented by other paid and volunteer assets/resources as needed. For areas outside the national parks, there are approximately 20 agencies, mostly sheriff's departments, in the U.S. which provide paid or career members of a mountain SAR team. Most of those supplement with volunteer professionals. The bulk of mountain SAR operations in the U.S. are provided by 'volunteer professional' teams (are not career positions or paid but must meet minimum industry-accepted standards at or above their paid counterparts), who may also respond via mutual aid or automatic aid to incidents out-of-county, out-of-state and into national parks, via intrastate, interstate, and national park agreements, as well as via the FEMA NIMS national mutual aid deployment system. Parks with paid teams include Denali National Park, Yosemite National Park,[6] Grand Teton National Park, and Mount Rainier National Park. Many paid and volunteer professional mountain SAR teams are part of the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA) and operate under the authority of the local sheriff's department (approximately 42 of the 50 states) or state police or emergency management agency. While teams are primarily responsible to operate in one county which could be from 50 square miles to 20,000 square miles, they typically respond to adjoining counties and states. Under the National Incident Management System, mountain rescue unit qualifications are standardized for those units which choose to be deployable for national disasters and national mutual aid outside their jurisdiction.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mountain Search and Rescue Company". Civil Aid Service. 1 August 2014. Retrieved 14 February 2015. 
  2. ^ "Mountain Rescue Ireland". Mountain Rescue Ireland. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  3. ^ "Mountain Rescue England & Wales". Mountain Rescue England & Wales. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  4. ^ here, RAF Details. "RAF - MRS". Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  5. ^ here, RAF Details. "RAF - MRS 70th Anniversary". Retrieved 11 June 2017. 
  6. ^ "Yosemite National Park: YOSAR". United States National Park Service. Retrieved 24 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Resource: Mountain Search and Rescue Team". Federal Emergency Management Agency. Retrieved 25 January 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Scott-Nash, Mark (2007). Playing for Real: Stories from Rocky Mountain Rescue. Boulder, Colorado: The Colorado Mountain Club Press. ISBN 0-9760525-6-3. 

External links[edit]