Helicopters: good and bad!

Helicopters to carry injured children to hospital: right and proper. Helicopters to carry healthy rich people to their mountain (secondary?) residences: wrong and should be checked.

In his letter in this newspaper last Tuesday, 13 March, entitled "Limitons les vols d'hélicoptère!" (limit helicopter flights!), Gabriel de Candolle was unknowingly prescient in writing that the helicopter is a good invention when used for medical emergencies but a pest when flying (low) over inhabited regions while transporting rich clients from one place to another. These latter ones seem frequently to be allowed to fly without an active transponder, which makes it impossible to track their path when a complaint is made: others have a type of transponder which does not report the altitude.

The TV reports on the tragic coach crash at Sierre, which killed or seriously injured many people, mostly children, showed how valuable were the helicopters in evacuating the injured persons to various hospitals. No person would dream of protesting when overflown by these helicopters, very often easily recognisable by their bright red colour. In Geneva we often see red helicopters flown by REGA, plus the yellow one of Geneva Hospital, and we happily accept that they do not need to follow normal official arrival and departure paths.

When seeing the TV coverage I could imagine the feelings of the parents and relatives of these children who had just enjoyed a week of sunshine and skiing in St Luc. Myself, I have frequently come down from Chandolin, via St Luc, in the yellow postbus before taking the train back to Geneva. My children and grandchildren are up in that same region most weekends, plus school holidays, all through the winters: they always drive back through that same tunnel. My worst nightmare would be to have something similar happen to them: this type of nightmare, which can sometimes be only a telephone call away, has just happened to the parents, family and friends of these children. We all grieve for them, knowing how this tragedy will stay with them for the rest of their life.

There are already suggestions that the accident would have been less serious if there had not been a solid wall which the coach hit head-on. There might also be suggestions that a limit of 100 kph is too high for a tunnel with a bend (though I often see drivers in the Vernier tunnel for whom this same limit is apparently too low!). Certainly, some lessons will be learnt, but we should be aware that everything is simple in hindsight. However, whatever these suggestions are, and how they are acted upon, will change nothing that has already happened: we recall Edward Fitzgerald's translation of the poem The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

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