On 8th September 2016, the well-known Austrian pilot Hannes Arch died in a helicopter crash in Hohe Tauern mountains.
Hannes Arch was born on 22 September 1967 in Leoben, a Styrian city in central Austria. During his early years, Arch grew interested in sports, flying and his beloved Alps Mountains.
He attended BORG in Eisenerz – the special high school (Oberstufenrealgymnasium) with extended sport programme – and began with hang gliding at the age of fifteen. In the coming years, Arch practiced various sports and extreme activities, such as climbing, mountaineering, paragliding, base jumping and skydiving. He was also among the pioneers of paragliding aerobatics.
In 1997, Arch took first place in ´Vertigo´, the unofficial Aerobatic Paragliding World Championship held in Switzerland. Two years later, he was first in ´Eurosport Mad Masters´ paragliding aerobatic contest organized in France.
Hannes Arch was the first person to perform base jump from Alpine peaks – in 2000 it was north face of Eiger at approximately 3,000 metres ASL (together with Ueli Gegenschatz), and in 2003 he jumped from Matterhorn, at approximately 4,000 metres ASL.
In addition, Arch was a godfather of the Red Bull X-Alps paragliding race. He developed the competition commonly recognized as the toughest adventure race in the world, in which the paragliding pilots had to cross the Alps with every stage covered either on foot or by paraglider.
It is not surprising that aforementioned activities eventually led Arch to powered aerobatics. In 2006, he won gold medal at the FAI European Aerobatic Championships in freestyle aviation aerobatics category. That opened him a way to the most prestigious aviation competition at that time, the Red Bull Air Race World Championship.
In October of 2006, Hannes Arch completed the RBAR qualification course organized in Arizona. It allowed the Austrian pilot to join the competition next year. In the first race of the 2007 season, held in Abu Dhabi on 6th April 2007, Arch took the last, thirteenth place. Nevertheless, within the same month he proved his flying skills and was placed fourth in Rio de Janeiro, on 21st April. Eventually, Arch finished his first RBAR season in tenth place, scoring three points.
In the opening race of the 2008 season, Hannes Arch took the second place and, except for the second race held in the USA, he did not leave the podium for the end of the season. He won races in Hungary and Portugal, was second in the Netherlands, and took the third place in other races. Finally, Hannes Arch won the 2008 season of the RBAR, scoring 61 points and earning the World Champion title.
Although he never repeated that success, in the following years Hannes Arch was always among the top pilots of the RBAR World Championship. He was second in 2009, 2010 and 2014; and third in 2015 and 2016.
In addition to taking part in the RBAR series, Hannes Arch was also famous of his incredible aviation stunts. In 2007, he flew under Mozartsteg, an art-nouveau bridge in Salzburg. In 2014, Arch flew a slalom among fourteen wind turbines of Tauernwindpark in Oberzeiring.
Although he became the world-famous pilot, Hannes Arch was always happy to come back to his beloved mountains. There, he run an aviation company that used helicopters to deliver provisions to remote alpine huts.
On 8th September 2016, Arch was transporting goods with Robinson R66 to Elberfelder Hütte, a remote mountain lodge located at 2,346 metres in the upper Gößnitz valley, Hohe Tauern mountains. About 21:15 hours, he took-off for the return flight, not respecting the ban on flying within limits of the Hohe Tauern National Park that was effective after 16:00 hours.
Shortly after the take-off, the helicopter hit side of the mountain, approximately 650 metres from the starting point and with the speed of approximately 98 kph. Hannes Arch was dead on spot due to broken neck, his passenger was seriously injured but survived.
The final report from the accident was issued only in June of 2018. After a long investigation, the Austrian aviation authorities stated that the pilot´s error was the reason of the crash, as no malfunction was found on the helicopter. It was concluded in the report that landing lights that were switched on, together with not dimmed instrument panel and low level of natural light led to blinding the pilot who lost orientation during the flight.
The official personal website of Hannes Arch still contains one of his last interviews he gave in April of 2016. Arch points there that life is running out too fast, in the way human body is not made for, causing nothing more than pure stress. And his wish was to slow down, make a change and return to homeland – in his case the Alps Mountains he loved.
During the 2016 season of the RBAR, Hannes Arch earned points in just five out of eight races. Nevertheless, that still allowed him to take the third place overall – regrettably posthumously.
Cover photo: Hannes Arch while taking-off for his last race within the Red Bull Air Race series, Lausitzring, September 2016