UK

Richard Branson 'Helpless' As Son Sam Plucked Off Mountain In Alps Helicopter Rescue

04/09/2014 12:32 BST | Updated 04/09/2014 12:59 BST

Sir Richard Branson is used to finding himself in the wars, having to be plucked off mountains, lifted out of the Ocean, scooped up out of air balloons.

But he was forced to watch, helpless, yesterday, as his son Sam had to be airlifted to safety by helicopter after being overcome with altitude sickness during his 4,500-metre ascent up the Matterhorn in the Alps.

sam branson

Sam Branson was overcome by altitude sickness as he approached the summit of the Matterhorn

Sam Branson and a group of other climbers were completing the final stage of the Virgin Strive Challenge - involving running, rowing, cycling and hiking from London. Sam was only 200 metres from the top of the mountain when he started suffering from dizziness, nausea and respiratory problems.

Despite being urged to get off the mountain by emergency workers, Sam managed to make it to the summit, where he was then airlifted off.

Richard, a veteran of such daredevil challenges who has been airlifted to safety eight times himself, was with the base party, and watched from the rescue helicopter as Sam was delivered to safety.

richard branson

"A family of adventurers" - at the top of the mountain

"I watched all of the drama unfold and felt totally helpless. There were a few hairy moments, when we didn't know exactly what was wrong with him," says Richard today, from the Alps.

"The good news is that he made it to the top, and was safe. Helicopters are wonderful things."

Sam himself says of the experience reaching the top, "I hardly knew where I was. I had a blinding headache and could only briefly look up and take in the open blue sky. Having seen the Matterhorn dominating the view for weeks, I wondered briefly where it had gone."

Even with the mishap on the Alps, Richard is all too aware that he's not in a position to lay down any rules for the members of his family when it comes to staying still on flat surfaces.

"Sam's spent his life watching me jump out of aeroplanes and take off in hot air balloons. For me to tell him he can't do these things wouldn't go down very well, and I wouldn't do it. We're a family of adventurers. Altitude sickness can happen to any climber, however experienced they are. Sam's the fittest he's ever been."

Despite his obvious excitement at becoming a grandfather for the first time when his daughter Holly gives birth to twins, Richard shows no signs of stopping. His space-bound project Virgin Galactic only this week announced a new partnership with Land Rover, and Richard confirms he'll be one of the first to go up as soon as the rocket is ready .

"I've been doing centrifugal testing, and I'm 100% signed up for it," he tells me. "Holly's dropped out, because of her pregnancy, but hopefully Sam will be with me. Unless his wife becomes pregnant."

After several delays to the Virgin Galactic project, Richard's hesitant to give a new date for lift-off. However, from his picturesque perch on the side of the Matterhorn, he tells me, "What I will say is that things are going very well."

Richard Branson

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK | FOLLOW US ON TWITTER