8 May 2015

Nepalese battled for evacuation with trekkers

1:57 pm on 8 May 2015

Villagers in Nepal have told how local people clung to the landing skids of a helicopter, to stop it taking off with foreign trekkers ahead of injured earthquake victims.

An Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter pilot unloads relief aid in the village of Laprak.

An Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter pilot unloads relief aid in the village of Laprak. Photo: AFP

Three foreign trekkers used their satellite telephone to call the rescue helicopter that landed in Langtang Valley three days after the deadly earthquake triggered a catastrophic landslide that buried hundreds of people in one village in the valley.

Uninjured trekkers were persuaded to disembark and injured Nepalese were flown out instead, including a toddler with broken legs.

Lhakpa Jangba, a local baker who was evacuated from the valley last week, told Reuters most helicopters were coming to pick up the foreigners, who were healthy, "not our injured people," he said.

"We said to the foreigners, 'You are healthy. Stay one or two more days and let our injured people go'."

Villagers had "strong words" with the pilots and foreigners, but there was no violence, Lhakpa said.

Rescue workers are struggling to recover the bodies of nearly 300 people, including about 110 foreigners, believed to be buried under up to six metres of ice, snow and rock from the landslide that destroyed Langtang Village.

So far, the bodies of nine foreigners have been recovered. That makes Langtang one of the worst-hit sites in a disaster whose toll throughout Nepal has reached 7759 dead with over 16,400 injured.

Langtang Valley, the nearest Himalayan region to Kathmandu, lies 60 km to the south, making it popular with foreign climbers and trekkers.

The first rescue helicopter landed in Kyanjin Gompa, a three-hour trek from Langtang Village, two days after the quake, carrying away a half-dozen injured, mainly from the village.

The second helicopter came the following day, called in by the three foreign climbers but was prevented from flying until it took the injured on board.

Nepalese people queue for relief aid from an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter team in northern-central Gorkha.

Nepalese people queue for relief aid. Photo: AFP

More helicopters came in the hours and days ahead, each mobbed by village people desperate to get out, said Kat Heldman, a US mountaineer

"All the mountaineers that had gear and tents and food adopted the trekkers that didn't have food," she said.

The villagers camped in a separate area from the climbers, by a garbage dump, because it was sheltered by a large boulder. "But we would go to them to treat their wounds," Heldman said. "Eventually they started coming to us. There was a lot of hugging."

Heldman and her group were evacuated the Wednesday following the quake. "Our party was initially broken up but we refused to go without our porters."

A U.S. Special Forces team in Nepal contracted a six-seater helicopter four days after the quake. Panicky survivors grabbed their bags and ran towards helicopters as soon as they landed, said Dan, a rescue coordinator who spoke on condition that his family name not be used.

"They had mountains on two sides and avalanches on the other. So you can imagine the fear. They realised they couldn't get out unless someone came to get them."

As of Thursday, at least 300 people had been rescued from the Langtang Valley, said Gautam Rimal, assistant chief district officer.

Lhakpa Jangba said he thought many people died of their injuries in the valley because not enough helicopters arrived in time.

He said the villagers in Kyangjin Gompa were grateful to an American nurse and climbing group who treated many of their injured.

- Reuters

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