Zurich — So far this year Switzerland's Alpine helicopter have saved more than 350 mountain adventurers. But more than 80 other climbers were not so fortunate.
Lured by the thrill of conquering such famous peaks as the magic Matterhorn, mountain climbers suffered 33 percent more fatalities during this past June through August than in the same period last year.
Why is the number of accidents increasing?
The answer is simple, says Paul Muller, spokesman for the Swiss Air Rescue Service. There are just more and more people heading for the high peaks. A good weather day on the Matterhorn can draw 200 determined climbers. And even in winter the diehards are flexing their muscles on its icy walls, happy with nothing but the top.
"An American comes and says -- the Rocky Mountains are no problem for me and the Matterhorn won't be either. But conditions are different here," Mr. Muller says.
Swiss peaks tower high (the Matterhorn is 14,688 ft.) and weather changes can be dramatically swift. A sunny morning can quickly turn into snowstorms and enveloping fog.
What can be done to prevent accidents?
The experts suggest these elementary, common sense rules:
Only trained and experienced climbers in top physical and emotional condition should go on mountain-climbing expedition; they must plan each expedition carefully -- equipment checked, routes set, pauses built in; they should announce their route and timing to their hotel, for example, or some other party , before leaving; they should always take warm clothes; they should always wear helmets if there is any danger of falling stones; and they should cancel the trip if there is a possibility of bad weather.
Mr. Muller also pointed out that climbers unused to local conditions should always take a guide: "Not taking one is a major reason why so many foreign climbers get into trouble," he says.
"We do not want to put 'forbidden' signs all over the Alps. After all, in the end a man is really responsible for his own foolishness. Others should not be stopped from doing what they enjoy," he says.
Though he admits that climbers are better prepared than they used to be, insufficient equipment still remains a major cause of problems, along with falling stones which injure a climber or cut through ropes.
"The trouble is that people get impatient at the end of their holidays, if there has been no chance of climbing. They feel that they must go home with the top achieved. They ignore the weather.