Rescue Operation - trekkingchile

Rescue Operation

Rescue from the danger area

Giving the alarm and transporting the injured

On arriving at the place of the accident the rescuer must first verify the injured person’s breathing and pulse, as well as his state of consciousness. After assessing the danger (falling rocks, avalanches, extreme altitude, low temperatures) and the priority, the injured must be taken out from the danger area as soon as possible.

However, a giddy and inappropriate transportation could represent a serious danger for the injured causing, for instance, vertebral lesions. The rescuer must be capable of assessing and deciding by himself if it’s better to transport the injured or to stay in the area of danger. In the case where there is only one rescuer available, he can transport the injured for short distances at a time using different techniques to lift a person, as, for instance, the dragging method (raute carry) or the arms crossing method (fireman´s carry). As soon as the injured is rescued from the area of danger, the necessary first-aid measures must be applied. Depending on the seriousness of the injuries, a camp for the injured should be installed, if at all possible, with tent, bedspread and sleeping bag. In the case of expeditions, if it’s possible, the injured must be carried to the base camp. In a well prepared excursion, radio communication should be constant between base camp and the rest of the participants. Now, other steps must be considered.

Assessing the situation

  • Must the injured be transported?
  • Can the injured be transported?
  • What means of transportation are there at our disposal?
  • Should I descend and seek help?
  • How can I find help?

Giving the alert

In most cases mobile phones signals don’t reach to the mountains in Chile. At any rate, getting to thesummit does often help to improve reception. Another possibility is to contact some arrieros (muleteers), who frequently make their way through the Andes, or the mounted police along the border. Otherwise, you’ll have to descend to the nearest town, which could take days. Once at the town, first thing is to contact the carabineros (police) dialing 133 (the equivalent of U.S.A.’s 911). Groups with a considerable number of excursionists should carry mobile VHF radio equipment, satellite communications equipment to make emergency calls ( or satellite phones ( If the rescuers are already near the injured, they can indicate his or her location with flares or whistles.

Departure and arrival notice

It is recommended never to go out trekking in the mountains alone. At the last lodging or police control, a photocopy of the passport should be left, with indications about the route and the planned return date. Additionally, it should be clearly stated beginning with which date a search and rescue operation must be started. Moreover, the Chilean Andean Rescue Association offers the possibility to register the departure and arrival dates of an excursion by phone at (02) 699 4764 or in their web page (


Once the injured has been rescued from the danger area, given first-aid and the situation assessed, concluding that he or she must be transported for medical attention, the alternatives for transportation must be considered. A lone rescuer can carry an injured person only over short distances, even using an improvised stretcher. If two or more rescuers are available, considerably longer distances can be traveled. The use of pack animals can be relatively easy to organize in Chile and they are a great help. The most comfortable alternative, and most often the only possibility for a rescue in impassable areas, is the rescue helicopter.

Forms of improvised transportation

To go over considerable distances, the transportation of the injured must be improvised using belts, lassoes and ropes. It is important to correctly pad the contact points of ropes and/or belts with the injured and the rescuer to avoid pains that appear quite rapidly due to pressure during the transport. The transportation over snow is relatively easy, since the injured can be dragged on a counterpane or on a sleeping bag.

Often, the particularities of the terrain and high altitude allow the transportation of the injured only by hand. In these cases a stretcher is the safest and most comfortable option and can be used over medium distances. Any other transportation technique is useful only for short distances, in most cases just for the rescue from the area of danger and a few hundred meters more. In expeditions, it is reasonable to carry two tubes that can be joined with the sleeves of a jacket or with a rope. Coligüe branches (Chilean bamboo) or small tree trunks, appropriately cut, can also be used. Additionally, ways of transportation can be improvised with ropes and well-padded lassoes. If only two rescuers are available, these can be tied to the backpacks.

Pack animals

The use of horses and mules is very common in the Chilean Andes, since it is the most important means of transportation, and often the only one among the peasants in the mountains. It is preferable the use horses, since mules can quickly take an uncomfortable trot. If the person is not in condition to mount, then he or she must be accompanied by another person, who must also mount and hold him or her. The building of a stretcher is often impossible, due to the fact that the appropriate materials do not exist at high altitudes. Besides, in most cases they cannot be used because of the characteristics of the terrain.


In the Santiago area, and in exceptional cases in other regions, you can request a helicopter at: or calling (02) 273-9999. If you have no insurance for this type of situations, you should figure about US$ 1000 per each hour of flight. Besides, you should expect a wait of a few days, especially under bad weather conditions. To indicate the exact location of the injured, GPS equipment is of great use. Additionally, the landing of the helicopter must be aided by selecting a safe area, if at all possible a firm, flat ground without dangerous obstacles, like electrical wires. In addition, it is necessary to indicate the wind direction to the pilot, by tying a piece of cloth to the walking-stick.

Development of a rescue operation with helicopter

  • Remove all kinds of objects (equipment) from the landing site.
  • Place tourself with the back towards the wind direction. Put glasses to protect yourself from the dust.
  • 3. Both arms up indicate: Yes = please help and land here. One arm up indicates: No = we don’t need help, don’t land.
  • Both arms up indicate: Yes = please help and land here. One arm up indicates: No = we don’t need help, don’t land.
  • If there is any danger for the pilot, cancel the landing by crossing the arms many times over your head.