High-altitude rescue à la Spiderman

At the beginning of July, spectacular scenes played out at the Prime Tower: emergency personnel from Zurich rescue services were carrying out training on how to rescue people using window gondolas.

When two people are suddenly dangling from the Prime Tower façade on a Friday morning, this catches the attention of passers-by. A group of pre-school children could barely stop staring in amazement, and even adults – including many members of the media – were looking up spellbound. What looked like a cliff-hanger was an exercise for emergency personnel from the Zurich rescue services. And they had everything under control.

When the gondola stops
Training for a high-altitude rescue is carried out several times a year in a realistic environment so that we are well prepared in the event of an emergency. High-altitude rescue worker Pascal Hunziker tells us that they must successfully complete at least 70 hours of training every year. This means not only going up high, but also includes rescues down below if, for example, a construction worker is lying injured in an excavation pit or if someone has fallen into a shaft. Today, at the Prime Tower, the following scenario is being practised: the window gondola has a technical fault. Of all things, it stops on the 23rd floor. The worker is therefore stuck in the gondola and must be rescued. The window cleaner is played by Thomas Gerster, who on a normal working day has his feet firmly on the ground – he is the Technical Manager at Wincasa.

The rescue worker descends from above
Pascal Hunziker, the high-altitude rescue worker, abseils from the roof of the high-rise building in the façade lift. He secures himself and Thomas Gerster using special harnesses and cables. They are pulled out of the gondola together using a hoist and slowly abseil along the façade. Now, there are two guys literally hanging in the air. The spectacular scene has onlookers holding their breath. But, everything is going to plan. The weather conditions are perfect. No wind, rain or sun to complicate the exercise. Even a very hot summer day could become a problem as the façade can then heat up to almost 100 degrees. This would be an issue to the extent that the cable should not come into contact with anything more than 60 degrees Celsius.

The abseiling part is generally brief; both rescuer and patient, as the person to be rescued is known, arrive safely on the ground in a few minutes. The whole mission lasts around 40 minutes with the preparation and securing taking up most of the time. After his first Spiderman experience, Thomas Gerster says: “At first I thought this is pretty high, but I felt very secure at all times. Pascal Hunziker explained every individual step to me. And, yes, I would do it again!”

Image: Schutz & Rettung Zürich