Plane crash: Pilot stuck in treetop

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Volunteer Fire Department Schwäbisch Gmünd, Baden Württemberg (Germany)

Monday, 15 August 2016, 8:09 p.m.: Alarm for the FD Schwäbisch Gmünd, Division Degenfeld. The keyword was "Explore technical assistance; light aircraft lost at the edge of the forest between Degenfeld and Weissenstein". It was rapidly clear that the alarm concerned a plane crash. The City Department of the FD Schwäbisch Gmünd set out with extensive rescue equipment.
Because the exact crash site was still unknown, forces from the police, mountain rescue and FD combed the highly inaccessible terrain. High, dense forests on an extremely steep slope placed great physical demands on the teams from the beginning of the mission on.

Shortly before 9 p.m., the pilot was found. He was hanging horizontally with his plane in a treetop, approximately 30 metres off the ground. His rescue parachute had been caught in the tree. The victim was doing well under the circumstances. With the aid of another pilot who had been flying in front of him for a short time and who landed at a nearby air strip, a telephone connection to the victim could be set up. The Incident Commander decided to request a police helicopter as well as a DRF rescue helicopter with winch.

Overnight on the escarpment

Meanwhile, darkness had set in. Additional personnel were notified and a helipad set up. During the aerial exploration, it became apparent that a winch rescue would be too risky. At 11:15 p.m., it was agreed with the pilot that a night rescue operation was not possible due to the danger to all involved. To give the pilot a certain feeling of safety, however, the escarpment was illuminated. For this, approximately 350 metres of power cable had to be laid over the difficult terrain. With great effort, a backup generator was also placed on the slope to guarantee the electrical safety.
Two members of the FD and mountain rescue service spent the night on the escarpment at the foot of the tree and talked to the pilot until he eventually fell asleep. The machine operators of the vehicles responsible for the illumination spent the night together with a crew of the rescue service at the foot of the mountain. All other forces withdrew from the site to rest or regain their strength.

Rope rescue group arrives

Tuesday, 16 August 2016, 4:00 a.m.: The rope rescue group from the professional FD Stuttgart arrived at the Schwäbisch Gmünd station. The professionals did not want to waste any time and wanted to climb the mountain that night in order to be at the accident site by dawn.
With the first rays of dawn, a drone recently acquired by the Fire Department was sent up to get a more precise impression of the situation. The pilot was happy about the visit from the drone as it distracted him somewhat from his predicament. He had survived the night and was doing correspondingly well.

After extensively reviewing the situation, the rescue operation began at 6:15 a.m. Rescuers climbed three different trees to better assess the options. Using a variety of rope securing techniques, a central belay point was set up scarcely one metre above the pilot. Although the plane was hanging stably in the branches, it was additionally secured to the tree.

Pilot safely on the ground

The pilot was pulled out of his plane using a rescue hoist and safely brought to the ground attached to the active rescuer. There, the mountain rescue service took over the "patient" and brought him down the escarpment on a stretcher via an improvised ropeway. The rescued man was evidently still doing well when he was transferred to the ambulance. For precautionary measures, however, he was taken to hospital.

10:30 a.m.: End of the operation for all forces!

The mission involved 62 forces from the Fire Department, 7 from the rope rescue group, 6 from the rescue service, 6 from the mountain rescue and 5 from the police. All blue light organisations demonstrated the excellent integrated services they can offer. Even though the rescue was extremely difficult and demanding, the pilot safely descended to the ground. Many thanks!