Dolomites Mountain Rescue

The Dolomites Mountain Rescue Service – C.N.S.A.S.

Mountain rescue refers to search and rescue activities that occur in a mountainous environment, although the term is sometimes also used to apply to search and rescue in other wilderness environments. This tends to include mountains with technical rope access issues, snow, avalanches, ice, crevasses, glaciers, alpine environments and high altitudes.

The difficult and remote nature of the terrain in which mountain rescue often occurs has resulted in the development of a number of specific pieces of equipment and techniques. Helicopters are often used to quickly extract casualties, and search dogs may be used to locate them.

Mountain rescue services (In Italy it’s called Corpo Nazionale Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico, C.N.S.A.S.) may be paid professionals or volunteer professionals. Paid rescue services are more likely to exist in places with a high demand such as the Alps, national parks with mountain terrain and many ski resorts.

However, the labor-intensive and occasional nature of mountain rescue, along with the specific techniques and local knowledge required for some environments, means that mountain rescue is often undertaken by voluntary teams. These are frequently made up of local climbers and guides. Often paid rescue services may work in co-operation with voluntary services. For instance, a paid helicopter rescue team may work with a volunteer mountain rescue team on the ground.

Time ago the Mountain rescue was free, but now in many parts of the world rescue organizations may charge for their services e.g. Dolomites, where mountain rescue is highly expensive (helicopter costs 95 USD per minute – year 2015) and will be charged to the patient.

How to report an accident to the Mountain Rescue

Emergency: Call 118

Anyone intercepting a distress call (call for help) must notify phone number 118 or the nearest First-Aid Station giving the following information:

1 – Name and surname of the person making the call.
2 – Place from where he is calling with the relevant phone number.
3 – Time, place, kind and the seriousness of the accident.
4 – Number of people involved in the accident.
5 – Weather and visibility conditions.

118 - Mountain Rescue Phone Number

He must then remain on the spot at disposal of the First Aid Squad. Inform the operator of any obstacles which could be encountered by the Helicopter Rescue Service, weather conditions, electrical cables, cable cars etc. The clearer information you give, the easier it is for the Rescue Service.

Emergency Numbers for other European Countries

Please note that emergency tel numbers are NOT the same in the single countries.
You should take a note of the numbers below when traveling to other European Countries. Following reference for some of the countries:
ITA 118 – AUT 144 – GER 112 – FRA 112 – BNLX 112 – GBR 999 – SPA 112 – SLO 112 – SUI 144.


The speed with which helicopters can get to emergencies means that they are now widely used in mountain rescue operations when the gravity of the situation justifies their use, naturally, and weather and environmental conditions permitting.
The arrival of a helicopter on the scene poses behavioural and communication issues which those being rescued must be aware of. It is thus worth knowing some of the simple internationally agreed signs which allow for essential communication.
One person alone must act as communicator keeping his or her back to the wind and staying still while the helicopter moves in.


Helicopter rescue signs


YES position: keep standing arms up, back before the wind. This sign YES states to the Pilot and Crew that you are in need for help. Positive answer to questions the rescuers may ask: land here, my back is before the wind.


NO position: keep standing, one arm up, the other down. Back before the wind.
This sign NO states to the Pilot and Crew that you are not in need of help. Negative answer to questions the rescuers may ask.

When the pilot is getting ready to land the individual signing must crouch down and stay still. All others present must move away from the place of rescue. In the mountains helicopters intervene in highly critical situations and it is thus essential that everyone is aware of certain simple rules of behaviour to facilitate, or at least not obstruct, rescue operations. During rescue those present at the site must:

  • Free the site of rucksacks, clothing and anything else which might blow away.
  • Move away from the landing site into a place of safety.
  • Hold children by the hand and keep dogs on a leash.
  • Stay still avoiding moving away or, above all, moving closer to the helicopter while it is moving.
  • It is essential that individuals never move closer to a helicopter from the rear.

Choice of landing site

Long objects which may strike the rotor or light objects which may get blown into the rotor or engine intake

The area upstream of the helicopter is very dangerous!

Access area

International signs

Almost all emergency calls now come from mobile phones but we can sometimes find ourselves without mobile access and in such cases it is important to be aware of the international rescue signs:
CALL: visual or acoustic signals, six times in a minute (every ten seconds) (shouting, torch light, etc.). Repeat after a minute.
REPLY: visual or acoustic signals, three times in a minute.

Getting lost or trapped in the Dolomites can cost a fortune: 90 Euros per minute of helicopter flight! In the event that uninjured people or those without insurance cover are rescued, the cost of rescue is incurred by the individual rescued.
Costs can be a very unpleasant surprise and individuals are strongly advised to take out an insurance policy which covers the cost of rescue and transport.
I myself am a member of Dolomiti Emergency whose RESCUE AND TRANSPORT COMPENSATION policy covers the costs involved in seeking individuals who are lost, rescue operations, recovery and transport with any means including helicopters.
The cost is truly affordable – €22 per year (valid for the current year, 2019). You can join Dolomiti Emergency online too, go to its official website.

Avoid unnecessary rescues

Prevent Accidents

Incidents largely happen due to human errors of judgement or arise from a lack of understanding or skills. Use the following to guide you:

  • Be aware of your level of skill/ experience/ understanding and choose routes accordingly.
  • Thorough route planning including identifying alternative or escape routes.
  • Ensure you have adequate first aid or survival skills.
  • Ensure you are adequately equipped for the conditions.
  • Make good navigational decisions and on the ground route choices.
  • Keep people informed.
  • If route card details have been left with a responsible person, always report your return. Many hours of search time can be wasted if you fail to do so.
  • Rely on skills, not technology.

Learn the basics of map reading and compass work and use GPS navigation aids as a back up, not as a primary tool. Similarly, do not rely on mobile phones to summon immediate help – there are many areas on the Dolomites where reception is still patchy or unavailable.