Mr McWalter, a self-employed architect from Stirling in Scotland, and his wife went on a mountain-walking holiday in Switzerland in September last year. Walking alone near the 14,000ft summit of Breithorn, Mr McWalter fell through an ice bridge into a crevasse.
He was found six hours later, lying virtually on the border between Switzerland and Italy. He was suffering from hypothermia, and had broken his pelvis, a knee, a leg and some ribs. His rescuers alerted the Italian mountain rescue service.
He was flown by helicopter to the local Aosta hospital and spent the next month in intensive care. His wife stayed in an Aosta hotel while he recovered. She had been put in contact with Europ Assistance, which handled the emergency medical assistance programme for General Accident, the insurer. Europ Assistance rang Mrs McWalter every night and engaged local agents to evaluate her husband's medical progress. It paid all the bills immediately - Mrs McWalter's hotel bill in Aosta, for example, and the pounds 2,000 charge for the helicopter rescue.
After a month, Europ Assistance paid pounds 8,000 for an air ambulance to fly Mr McWalter to Glasgow.
Had he had no insurance, Mr McWalter would have been faced with paying out pounds 12,000 for his rescue, his return flight home and his wife's hotel bills. His bills in the Aosta hospital amounted to another pounds 18,000, but Europ Assistance recouped this from the Italian health service under a reciprocal arrangement with the UK. (All travellers are advised to check on the existence of such reciprocity deals before they go abroad. Where they exist, travellers can make themselves eligible by filling out form E111, available from post offices).
Switzerland does not have a similar reciprocal agreement, and Swiss medical services do not come cheap.