Swiss Air Force apologizes for taking water from French lake for thirsty cows

© Arnd Wiegmann
The Swiss military was forced to apologize before France after its helicopters made a surprise incursion into French airspace to scoop water from a local lake for thirsty cows in Switzerland.

Switzerland’s Department Of Defense released a statement Tuesday, saying that it “misinterpreted” the information coming from Paris on the matter.

It turned out that the Swiss military only received permission for three days of flights over France, but not an allowance to scoop water from the Rousses Lake.

The blunder became clear after a meeting between French and Swiss representative on Monday evening.

“France's flights HQ confirmed permission for the fly-over. The Swiss Air Force misinterpreted this notification and authorized the airlifting of water from the Lac des Rousses even though such an action also required permission from the Jura prefecture,” the statement said.

“The Swiss army offers its apologies to the local and regional authorities, as well as to residents and tourists for any inconvenience caused,” it added.

Last Thursday, the local authorities were puzzled to see three Swiss Super Puma helicopters airlifting water out of Rousses Lake in the Jura Mountains in the east of France. The sight of military aircraft caused panic among swimmers and fisherman, who reported the incident to the French police.

“It all happened without our knowledge, even though the commune owns the lake. That’s not normal,” Bernard Mamet, the mayor of Les Rousses, told the Swiss 20 Minutes newspaper, adding that flying over French territory without permission could be seen as “illegal.”

Renaud Nury, secretary general of the Jura prefecture, told France Info that local authorities were “astonished” by the Swiss incursion.

“We approached the Vaud [Swiss canton] authorities, who immediately suspended their operation,” Nury said, as quoted by The Local.

Switzerland sent its army helicopters into France as part of a government-funded operation to deliver water to cows in the Swiss Jura and other mountain pastures experiencing water shortages due to a heat wave.

Before turning to neighboring France, the Swiss military had been scooping water from lakes across Switzerland since July 21.

However, the French Jura had their own water restrictions in place due to the same high temperatures and lack of rain.

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Earlier, the Swiss military said that they had asked the French air force for permission, but the message for some reason wasn’t passed on to the local authorities.

“As soon as they contacted us, we realized there was a communication problem and we immediately stopped,” Denis Froidevaux, a Swiss military representative told the local Le Matin newspaper.

The Swiss army explained that they had chosen Rousses Lake due to its proximity to the troubled cows, as the helicopters could save 15 minutes per flight.

Around 20,000 cows in Switzerland, which relies on milk to produce its branded Tete de Moine and other cheeses, are believed to be in need of drinking water.