Richard Duncan (left) and Miles Mcdonough (second from left) of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopter rescue team pose with Swiss helicopter crew members Peter Lackermeier (third from left) and Oliver Kreuzer with the boy they helped rescue after a skiing accident on Rothorn mountain in Switzerland.

Richard Duncan (left) and Miles Mcdonough (second from left) of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopter rescue team pose with Swiss helicopter crew members Peter Lackermeier (third from left) and Oliver Kreuzer with the boy they helped rescue after a skiing accident on Rothorn mountain in Switzerland.

Two local rescuers help save boy in Swiss Alps drama

A training session in Switzerland turned into the real thing.

SNOHOMISH — After a young boy suffered a head injury while skiing in the Swiss Alps this February, two local rescuers helped to save him.

Richard Duncan and Miles Mcdonough are volunteers with the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office helicopter rescue team. They were in Switzerland for seven days last month, learning and sharing techniques and tactics with the medical crew at Air Zermatt, a private helicopter company that also provides airlift services.

Air Zermatt was called to the boy’s accident on Rothorn mountain Feb. 18. At first, they only knew someone had a head injury near the ski resort, Duncan said.

The helicopter team was in the air within five minutes of receiving the 911 call, Mcdonough said.

They flew over the scene and spotted the boy, who was with the ski patrol. The Air Zermatt crew circled around, landed and took over.

Duncan is a flight paramedic and Mcdonough a flight technician, which is an EMT who has mountaineering experience and rescue skills. They worked with another paramedic and a physician from Air Zermatt.

After the patient was loaded, the team took off for the hospital. They arrived within 20 minutes, according to reports from Air Zermatt.

Duncan and Mcdonough went on more than a dozen missions during their week in Switzerland. Mcdonough described the training as an exchange program. An offer stands for the Swiss unit to visit here, he said.

“The fact that they trusted us enough and knew about our program and the expertise we have to allow us to jump in and embed with their team spoke a lot,” Mcdonough said. “We want to live up to that and represent our team and Snohomish County well.”

The terrain in the Alps differs from the more familiar Cascade Range, Duncan said.

For one, there aren’t many trees in the Alps, which gave them “the luxury of landing,” he said. That’s not always an option here. Usually, local rescue helicopters have to hover.

Duncan and Mcdonough also are accustomed to covering a larger area than the Swiss team. Most of their work on the helicopter is in Snohomish County, but they sometimes go to nearby counties.

The sheriff’s office partners with the nonprofit Snohomish County Volunteer Search & Rescue. Travel costs for the exchange in the Alps were covered by the volunteer group.

This isn’t the first time the team has travelled internationally. In 2015, it sent members to Portugal for a similar program, which Mcdonough also participated in.

The Snohomish County helicopter rescue team answers around 80 emergency calls each year, said Bill Quistorf, the sheriff’s chief pilot. The team is based near Snohomish.

They now are preparing for this year’s “rescue season” in the summer and fall. Most of their missions involve hikers, climbers and people lost in the mountains. They often work with public and private helicopter outfits. That system helped save lives after a deadly collapse at the Big Four Ice Caves in 2015.

Duncan has been a volunteer with Search & Rescue for nine years, and Mcdonough for about eight. When they aren’t flying over the county, Duncan is a full-time paramedic in south county and Mcdonough is a third-year medical student at the University of Washington.

Mcdonough always knew he wanted to work in medicine, but volunteering with the rescue team fueled his interest, he said. Mcdonough was saved by his friends at Snohomish County Search & Rescue in 2011, after he fell climbing Mount Stuart in Chelan County.

He returned to the air crew once he healed.

“My hope one day is to continue with the Snohomish community as an emergency medicine physician, and also to volunteer those services in Snohomish County,” he said.

Back in Switzerland, the boy’s injuries had prevented him from speaking en route to the hospital. Later that day, Duncan, Mcdonough and folks from Air Zermatt transported a hurt snowboarder to the same hospital. They stopped by the boy’s room.

He was doing better, enough so to ask for a group picture. They were happy to comply. Duncan and Mcdonough are seen smiling, and Mcdonough is giving a thumbs up.

Since then, they have learned the boy made a full recovery.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192;

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