The world, as seen from above

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Bruno Siegfried
Winter 2022-2023

As a pioneer of mountain air rescues, Air-Glaciers has become an indissociable part of the Valais skies. But just who are the skyborne good Samaritans behind the company?

It was born of a simple fact – as many of the best ideas are. In 1963, while participating in a mountain guide training course, Bruno Bagnoud learned that Sion’s rescue helicopter could not land close enough to the Trient Glacier to evacuate someone who was injured. “It’s just not nimble enough,” explained pilot Hermann Geiger (who is also known as the “Flying Saint-Bernard,” for his heroic high-altitude rescues). The pure and simple truth was that people were going to die because the only available helicopter was suboptimal. Something had to be done.

Two years and numerous headaches later, Air-Glaciers was born, composed of Bruno Bagnoud, Hermann Geiger, one Alouette III, and a small Pilatus Porter plane. Sadly, Hermann died in a crash the following year. Then, in 1986, another drama unfolded in the family: François-Xavier, Bruno Bagnoud’s son (and also a pilot by his own right), died in a helicopter crash during the Dakar Rally, alongside race organizer Thierry Sabine and French singer Daniel Balavoine.

Time passed… and Air-Glaciers continued to grow. Now sponsored by Hamilton watches (who is very involved in the aviation sector), and on the eve of its 60th anniversary, the company recently merged with Air Zermatt but continues to fly on its own. Focused solely on helicopters these days, the company performs some 2,500 annual search and rescue missions (73,000 if you count since the company’s founding), two thirds of which are from Sion, with the others being from Gampel, Collombey, Leysin, Lauterbrunnen, and Gstaad. Boasting a flight school and 160 employees, today Air-Glaciers offers services transporting materials, passengers, and cattle; delivering supplies to mountain huts, agricultural locations, and construction sites; and – of course – touristic, skydiving, and heliski flights. The one “must do”? We recommend the Big Five, which takes you on a helicopter tour of Mont Blanc, Grand Combin, Dent Blanche, the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa, the Weisshorn, the Eiger, the Aletsch Glacier, and more, all in a single, spectacularly breath-taking flight!