Shortly after sunrise, we glide in our helicopter close to rocky ridges, snow-covered peaks and mighty glaciers. Above these towers the Matterhorn, a pyramid of white dusted rock. Our pilot points to a plateau at an altitude above 9,000 feet. As our helicopter approaches, small plates of crust break free from the hardened snowpack and whirl away along with loose snow. We land. Our pilot brings a few skiers and their mountain guide to the starting point of a free-ride tour. The skiers make wide sweeps through pristine snow and ski down toward Zermatt, Switzerland.
A glance at the Hamilton Khaki X-Wind Day Date, our test watch, tells us that the time is 9:20 a.m. The watch’s blue dial with a sunburst pattern goes well with the slightly bluish-white color of the glacial mountains that surround us. The Hamilton X-Wind is clearly recognizable as a pilots’ watch thanks to its clear numerals, distinctive hands and sturdy rivets on the brown leather strap. The tip of the seconds hand highlights Hamilton’s signature orange color. The Air Zermatt pilots’ Hamilton helmets are the same orange color.
The watch brand and the helicopter company have been partners since 2011. This is not just about boosting the brand’s visibility in the popular holiday resort of Zermatt, but above all to provide top-quality equipment to Air Zermatt’s professional pilots. They have been involved in the selection of the functions and design of various Hamilton models so that these watches will be easy to use aboard helicopters. In return, Hamilton provides financial support to Air Zermatt for costly airborne rescues in this region. The helicopter company must finance its lifesaving missions with income earned from commercial flights. Hamilton took part in setting up an air rescue service in Nepal, which Air Zermatt initiated and largely carried out.
A Fascinating Mountain World
We climb back into our helicopter and fly toward Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. In contrast to the Matterhorn’s distinctive pyramid, the dome-shaped glacial summit of Mont Blanc looks almost inconspicuous. It’s an unforgettable experience to float through this fascinating mountain world with its rugged rock faces, crevassed glaciers and glittering snowy slopes.
For every flight, a helicopter pilot must take into consideration the wind’s direction and strength. Although the winds fluctuate much more strongly here in the high mountains than in the lowlands, it is still important to compensate for crosswinds by steering according to a lead angle, which ensures that the helicopter reaches its intended destination.
This is where the Hamilton watch comes into play. Its name “X-Wind” is derived from the word, “crosswind,” which causes airplanes and helicopters to drift off course and requires pilots to take countermeasures. The lead angle can be calculated using the watch’s rotatable scales and an estimate of the crosswind using the diagram on the rotor. To do this, you have to know the wind direction and speed, and the speed of the aircraft and desired course. The pilot then adjusts the two scales using the crowns at 2 and 4 as well as rotating the bezel. In practice, this calculation is done before the flight begins and is usually performed with the aid of a computer. But the watch can definitely serve as an emergency backup if you practice the calculation beforehand.
Back at the heliport, the helicopters buzz in and out like bees at a hive. Air Zermatt operates a total of 10 planes from its three stations. Most of them pause only briefly at the heliport to refuel while their rotors are still running and to pick up new skiers or passengers for sightseeing flights. A specially equipped rescue helicopter is also standing by. And now an emergency call comes in: a skier has fallen into a crevasse. The helicopter is quickly but calmly loaded with all the necessary equipment. Every move is perfectly rehearsed and performed; the work is carried out professionally and by routine. The helicopter takes the mountain rescuers to the scene of the accident in just a few minutes and takes the skier’s family, who witnessed the accident, to the heliport. An emergency medical professional is getting ready.
In this case, the injured person does not respond to the team’s calls. Using a winch attached to a tripod, a rescuer descends into the narrow crevasse and begins to search for the injured man. The rescuer soon discovers him and finds that he is conscious and able to speak. The other members of the team now use the winch to raise the injured skier out of the crevasse. The on-call medical professional looks after him and accompanies him on the flight back to the heliport and then to the hospital. Thanks to the quick rescue, the man survived and is expected to recover. Everyone is relieved — because not all glacial falls have a happy ending.
The rescue helicopter will be called out again today to assist a skier who has had a heart attack. Since it was founded in 1968, Air Zermatt’s helicopters have flown more than 50,000 rescue flights. Fully equipped rescue helicopters, emergency doctors and paramedics are on call and standing by to assist in emergency situations. Air Zermatt also uses winches to rescue mountaineers who have fallen or gotten stranded on cliffs or steep rock faces.
In the winter, falls are the main cause of injuries on many ski slopes. Time always plays an important role in these rescue operations because the injured skiers can only survive if they are rescued quickly enough.
In Any Weather
Rescue flights are not only flown in sunny weather but also in the rain at night, so it’s good that the 45-mm X-Wind Day Date has distinctive hands and dials, high contrast, and lots of luminous material so it can be read quickly under all lighting conditions. And as numerous older models on the wrists of Air Zermatt pilots prove, these X-Winds can also withstand the tough everyday life of helicopter flight operations.
When we take a closer look at the X-Wind, we see that in addition to the good workmanship with numerous appealing details, calibrated scales and crowns, this pilots’ watch also has a transparent back through which you can view automatic Caliber H-30. In this model, the movement is undecorated except for the diagram engraved on the rotor. Other Swatch Group sister brands, such as Tissot’s Powermatic 80, use ETA’s Caliber 2836, which has a convenient 80-hour power reserve. The Hamilton Khaki X-Wind Day Date is priced at $1,095.
Our final helicopter flight lifts off. Its destination: Geneva Airport. One last time, we glide past rocky pinnacles, over ice-encrusted ridges and beside gigantic snow-covered mountains. We ask our pilot whether he ever grows accustomed to this beautiful natural spectacle and whether at some point the view seems mundane and nothing special. “No,” he says. He enjoys it every minute and every year.