“Would you like to have a helicopter ride on Saturday?”
What a question! Of course! Count me in!
And then the practicalities …
The offer comes from a very worthwhile charity foundation called Helimission https://www.helimission.org/en/ with headquarters located in Trogen, a small Alpine village about 75 km from my home. I have been doing translations for Helimission for a number of years, donating my time rather than my money, and they have been promising me a trip in a helicopter as a token of thanks for a very long time. At last the opportunity had arrived! Except that getting to Trogen is by a long and winding road, I don’t have transport, and at the moment I’m staying with my friend in Walenstadt, which is even further away. As the crow flies, of course, it’s much closer – just a few mountains in the way.
“No problem. I’ll come and pick you up about 11 am. Your friend can come too. Let me know where I can land.”
That sounds simple. There’s a large meadow not far away where the paragliders land – no, you have to pay a fee for that. There’s a field across the road from my friend’s house, large enough but on a slight slope and on inspection it proved to be very bumpy and lumpy, so that’s out. My friend knows a man with pastures where his horses graze – but that’s also on a steep slope. Oh dear! We made several phone calls, asked people to call us back, but nothing suitable came up.
Then – miracle! A lady “just happened” to come by on Friday morning who used to work for a company that had small planes and helicopters, and when we asked if she knew a place nearby where a helicopter could land, she instantly said, “Natürlich!” and gave us the phone number of the farmer in charge of a large, very flat meadow just about 500 m down the road. Permission granted, and all we had to hope for now was good weather (it was very dull and damp on Friday). Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
Saturday dawned bright and sunny, and with true Swiss precision we greeted the helicopter at 10.59 at the appointed spot. Our pilot was a young man in training, but of course the co-pilot /instructor has years of experience flying in all kinds of conditions. People strolling near the lake were probably rather surprised to see a helicopter arriving and picking up two elderly grey-haired ladies, but we didn’t notice.
Up and away, over the lake between the steep mountains on either side of the valley, and then a right-hand turn around the sharp ridge of the Churfirsten and over the summits of the snowy slopes reflecting the bright sunshine.
Far below us, the villages and roads, woods and ski slopes. Mountains and alpine pastures that used to be familiar to me from hikes years ago now lay before and below us. Ahead of us the highest mountain in eastern Switzerland, the Säntis, reared its built-up summit with a huge weather station and satellite tower. Then another right turn and a narrow squeeze through two rocky crags that seemed almost to be scraping the sides of the chopper. Our junior pilot was doing very well, the instructor’s calm, gentle voice through the headphones guiding him through the complicated processes.
And then we were back through the chain of the Churfirsten mountains and over the blue lake once more, heading back to our meadow landing spot. Our pilots helped us disembark, and a moment later the helicopter was just a dot in the distance. It was a short but very exhilarating and beautiful experience. Thank you very much, Helimission! That was fun!