Two RECCO SAR Helicopter Detectors were placed this summer in the mountainous zones of the Alps and Pyrenees in France, aiding year-round search-and-rescue (SAR) operations in these two ranges. Based in the towns of Morzine and Ancizan, the units are the first RECCO SAR Helicopter Detectors operational in France. They are operated by the company Blugeon Helicopters.
Rescue teams were trained during the summer and fall seasons and the units can now be used in responses to search-and-rescue missions year-round. The unit in Ancizan will cover the region of the Pyrenees Mountains, while the unit in Morzine can be deployed for search missions in the mountain regions of the Alps, Jura and Vosges. This will help SAR teams in these regions search for lost outdoor recreationists with greater efficiency and speed.
“The two primary advantages of this device are the speed, thanks to the movement of the helicopter, but also the search area. The width of the search corridors is at least a hundred meters. It allows our team to cover larger areas quicker,” said Stéphane Marcellin, Head of Mountain Rescue, Haute-Savoie fire brigade.
The RECCO SAR Helicopter Detector can quickly search large areas, covering a square kilometer in six minutes. Along with helping reduce search times for missing people, the helicopter-based detector can reduce the time and the exposure to risk for rescuers during search missions.
“The search area is very wide, thanks to the speed and accuracy of the helicopter.” Brigadier Pierre Foltier, French Mountain Police (CRS) in the Pyrenees, specifies: “As it can fly at 100 kilometers per hour, and cover an area of 100 meters, we can search wide corridors, especially in steep or wooded zones.”
RECCO technology has been used by mountain rescuers and ski resorts worldwide as an electronic avalanche burial search method for many years. Rescue teams in France have been working with handheld detectors for decades. The addition of the helicopter detector expands the field of application of the RECCO technology from an avalanche rescue tool to a year-round search and rescue tool. Having both resources available in these regions increases the likelihood of finding missing people equipped with a reflector in the outdoors.
“A signal is returned as soon as a reflector is located, and the pilot conducts his search according to the intensity of the signal. It's a little 'bip bip’, which cannot be confused with anything else,” explains Brice Pagès, helicopter pilot. “As soon as we hear it, we go into search mode, similar to an avalanche dog. We will sectorize and work in a loop or cross to find the person as quickly as possible."
“We’re excited to have the first two RECCO SAR helicopter detectors operational in France where we’ve had great cooperation with ski resorts and rescue teams across the country for many years. The addition of the helicopter detector will hopefully have an improved impact on the search-and-rescue missions in these regions year-round, especially when it comes to speed and efficiency,” said Fredrik Steinwall, CEO at RECCO.
Currently, there are 36 RECCO SAR Helicopter detectors globally, with 12 located in North America and 24 units deployed across Europe. The latest deployments include Helico Secours, Quebec (CAN), Spokane Regional Air Support Unit (US), and a RECCO SAR helicopter detector based out of Lauterbrunnen (SUI) operated by Air Glaciers.