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Martignoni Fernand

Was born on June 25, 1929 in the small hamlet Les Bioleys (de Brignon), which is part of the village Nendaz in the Canton Valais. After the compulsory school he did an apprenticeship as an automobile mechanic. He started his aviation career thanks to the help of the famous pilot Hermann Geiger. They became work colleagues and also great friends. During his free time Martignoni helped Geiger with the maintenance of airplanes, and in return was trained to be an airplane pilot for free.
Martignoni did his first training flight on October 28, 1953. The next year, on november 13, 1954, he obtained the private pilot licence. He was an excellent pilot and soon became Geiger’s right-hand man. At that time they were both working for the Valais Section of the Swiss Aero Club (VSSAC).

Martignoni logged a considerable flight experience especially carrying supplies, passengers, building materials, food, etc. to mountain huts, construction sites and similarly remote places. Like Geiger much later he also did a lot of SAR flights in the Alps using the Piper Super Cub.
In 1956 the Swiss Cooperative Societies (Coop) raised a sum of about half million Swiss Francs to finance the purchase of a helicopter destined to the Swiss Life-Saving Society (SLSS - please note that from a branch of this society in 1960 will born the Swiss Air Rescue Guard, now known as Rega). Geiger officially accepted, as chief-pilot of the SLSS, the expensive gift during a ceremony organized in Muttenz near Basle on February 28, 1957. The Bell 47J Ranger HB-XAU (the first of this version sold in Europe) became the first SAR helicopter in Switzerland where the injured could be placed in cabin and be assisted during the flight by a doctor.
Geiger was of the opinion that Martignoni should have also been trained to fly helicopters. For this reason Martignoni went to Belp to be trained as a helicopter pilot. Here on December 9, 1958 he began his training flying the Bell 47G2 HB-XAX with Heliswiss' instructor Alfred Glauser. On January 21, 1959 the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA) issued him the private pilot licence n° 37.
During the period between January 26-31, 1959 he did the mountain landing course with less than 30 hours of helicopter training. Therefore it is not surprising that he did his first rescue mission on March 18, 1959 (transport of a casualty from Zermatt to Sion) with a total flight experience of 33h44'!
On June 26, he did some material transportation up to over 2'000 meters with a flight experience of less than 45 hours! On July 28, Martignoni officially completed the transition course on the Bell 47J Ranger.
On August 3, 1959 he obtained the commercial pilot licence n° 37. In that same year he also obtained the licence as airplane instructor (with the extension to train pilots on glaciers landing) and the medal as glaciers pilot.
VSSAC obtained the permission from the SLSS to use the HB-XAU for commercial flights. The request then increased and for this reason the latter decided to put in service the Agusta-Bell 47J3B-1 HB-XBR, a helicopter similar to the HB-XAU but more powerful.

During one of these transportation flights, while at the controls of the HB-XBR, he was victim of a terrible accident. In fact on March 18, 1965 while flying in the Val d'Entremont (Liddes/VS) this helicopter crashed. He was so seriously injured that he was forced to remain in the hospital for three months.
In this period Bruno Bagnoud (the co-founder and director of Air Glaciers) asked him to become, together with Hermann Geiger, a pilot of the newly founded Air Glaciers. Martignoni accepted Bagnoud’s proposal with enthusiasm. After Hermann Geiger’s fatal accident, which occurred in Sion on August 26, 1966, he became chief-pilot of Air Glaciers.
He continued his flying career until October 27, 1982. Unfortunately on that day, while flying low over an alpine pasture, the SE 3160 Alouette III HB-XCM hit the cable of a cableway and crashed.
In the accident the pilot and his four passengers (3 of them were employees of the veterinary service of the Canton Valais) lost their life.

At the moment of the accident Martignoni had logged a considerable flying experience: 16'978 hours of flight of which 7'862 on the helicopters Bell 47G/J, SE 3160 Alouette III and SA 315B Lama.
Martignoni was internationally known for his mountain rescues. He received a lot of distinctions and medals. Simple, modest and altruist are only few of the adjectives used to describe him by those who had the chance to meet him and who remember him with affection.

By the end have a look to this fantastic film produced by the Télévision Suisse Romande in 1967 (in French):

HAB 10/2018