Air Glaciers

In 1963 the "grand patron" of Air Glaciers Bruno Bagnoud was a young aspiring alpine guide. During an alpine course one of the men of the group fell and broke a leg. After the alarm the famous glaciers pilot Hermann Geiger arrived with his Bell 47J Ranger at the site of the accident but did not land. He circled the group twice and then disappeared. At that moment Bagnoud did not understood why the pilot had taken this decision.
The injured man was suffering and needed urgent care. The rescuers were consequently forced to walk in the snow carring the man on a sledge. Fortunately the helicopter had landed not far from them. The injured man was picked up on the helicopter and immediately transported to hospital.
Bagnoud was surprised and wanted some answers. Why didn't Geiger land at the point indicated by the rescuers? A series of questions needed an answer. Bagnoud decided to ask the pilot the reasons behind his decision. Geiger told him:"You know Bruno, a landing close to the injured man would have only been possible with a powerful helicopter such as, for example, the new French turbine powered SE 3160 Alouette III". At that time Geiger worked as a pilot for the Aero Club in Valais. Unfortunately the new helicopter was too expensive for the limited financial resources of his employer.
Bagnoud, fascinated by aviation, therefore took the important decision to invest his energies in raising the money necessary to create a new aerial company equipped with modern machines which had better performances.
It was not easy to find the money necessary, but fortunately a bank in Valais financed a part of the investment needed.
On the 1st of August 1965 Air Glaciers was officially set up in Sion and took over the mountain flying operations of the Aero Club. Geiger (who was one of the co-founders), Fernand Martignoni, both pilots with great experience, and Bagnoud were Air Glacier's first helicopter pilots.
At that moment the new company had various airplanes and two helicopters. The first was the Bell 47J Ranger HB-XAU and the second the Agusta-Bell 47J3B-1 HB-XCA, both property of the Swiss Air Rescue Guard.
A few days later the brand new SE 3160 Alouette III HB-XCB piloted by Hermann Geiger landed in Sion. This helicopter was the first civil Alouette III registered in Switzerland. Hangars and offices were located in Sion.

In the early years the lack of work in Switzerland during certain periods of the year (especially in Winter and Spring) was fortunately filled by contracts with the United Nations. Thanks to this agreement Air Glaciers rapidly expanded and decided to purchase a second Alouette III (HB-XCM). The request of aerial transportation in the mountains then rapidly increased.
The airplanes Pilatus Porter frequently used at the beginning for the transportation of marchandise were rapidly replaced by the Alouette. In 1971 Air Glaciers was one of the first Swiss companies to receive the brand new SA 315B Lama, another helicopter extremely appreciated by its pilots.

During the 1970s and 1980s the society evolved to become one of the largest Swiss helicopter operators. Since the beginning Air Glacier's helicopters were used for SAR missions. Now this activity is coordinated by the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud organisation (Maison FXB de sauvatge) based in Sion.
Francois-Xavier was the son of Bruno Bagnoud and Albina du Boisrouvray. He tragically died in Mali in 1986 during the rally Paris-Dakar while he was flying an helicopter.
Over the years new bases were opened in and out the Canton Valais. Today Air Glaciers disposes of the following bases for its fleet: Sion, Lauterbrunnen, Geneva, Collombey, Gampel, Gstaad and Leysin.
The company offers all kind of aerial transportation with helicopters and airplanes.
For nearly forty years the company has used essentially the SE 3160 Alouette III and SA 315B Lama.

In 2001 it bought the first AS 350B3 Ecureuil which was followed over the years by others in order to modernize the fleet. For the air rescue activity occasionally the company uses, as well as its aircraft, helicopters hired.
Among the first employees of Air Glaciers there were Armand Geiger, Guy Gaudry, René Turco, Daniel Wasserfallen, Jean-Jacques Sümi, Brigitte Martin.

HAB 02/2013