Mountain rescue on slippery path

The rescue of a Bulgarian climber on Mount Olympus, northern Greece, earlier this week revealed the absence of coordinated planning in Greece, according to sources, to deal with these types of emergencies even though more than 150,000 people, mostly tourists, have hiked up the mountain this year alone. According to a member of the fire service, the mountain rescue set up is «in a mess» and volunteers often get in the way of authorities. In contrast, volunteers say that authorities cannot accept that they are vital to the success of rescue operations. A rescue team on Monday managed to locate a Bulgarian climber who had slipped and fractured his leg in heavy snow on Mount Olympus. The climber was one of a group of nine Bulgarians who became trapped at an altitude of 2,700 meters when the accident occurred. The injured Bulgarian was airlifted to a hospital in Katerini. However, sources in the fire service said that the effort could have gone disastrously wrong as the Greek Rescue Team, made up of volunteers, took it upon itself to call in a private helicopter to transport them to the scene of the accident. But the helicopter was forced to land at 2,400 meters due to the snowfall. «Who would be responsible if the helicopter crashed while carrying the injured climber,» commented the member of the fire service, who wished to remain anonymous, adding that an air force Super Puma helicopter had already been dispatched by the EMAK rescue team after the accident was reported. Volunteer rescuers said that they only hired a helicopter to get them to the injured climber, not to transport him to hospital. They add that they have more know-how and are better equipped than members of EMAK for conducting these types of operations. Aside from the apparent disagreement between authorities and volunteers, it seems that Greece’s mountain rescue training leaves much to be desired. Construction of a training center for mountain rescuers in Pieria, northern Greece, began in 2003, but is not due to be completed until the end of this year. To make matters worse, a lack of funding means that the center is probably going to be used as a fire station rather than for its intended purpose.

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