Pakistan Embassy, US firm play foul over Everest rescue?

  • Global Rescue claims it’s not an insurance company and is not liable to make any payment

Kathmandu, August 23

Pakistani climber Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, who suffered severe altitude sickness, had been evacuated from the death zone of Mt Everest on May 20 last year. Bhatti, being a part of the Mt Everest expedition, had purchased a travel security services from the US-based firm — Global Rescue (GR) LLC — while embarking on a month-long journey to the world’s highest peak.

Though the climber was entitled to get a full coverage for his evacuation and medical services from GR, the New Hampshire-based company refused to authorise his emergency evacuation from the South Col conducted by the expedition handling agency – Seven Summit Treks.

“We spent over $43,000 during the evacuation to save Bhatti’s life, but GR refused to authorise his evacuation,” Managing Director at Seven Summit Treks Mingma Sherpa said. While GR claims that it’s not an insurance company and is not liable to make any payment, Pakistani Embassy in Kathmandu has also backtracked from the agreement reached with the company while conducting Bhatti’s emergency rescue.

The authorisation letter to Seven Summit Treks signed by the Defence Attaché (Col Shafquat Nawaz) on May 22, 2017 stated, “It is suggested that emergency evacuation must be arranged at the earliest ... in the absence of insurance cover, the expenditure incurred on evacuation will be borne by Embassy of Pakistan, Kathmandu, Nepal.”

On the one hand, GR — which sold its full service package to its client — said it was not an insurance company to make the payment, while on the other, Pakistani Embassy officials are now ‘threatening’ to bar the company from running expeditions to Pakistani peaks if they raise the issue of payment regarding Bhatti’s evacuation, Sherpa, a world-record holder climber, claimed.

Not only Bhatti, American climber Mah Larry, who was airlifted from Camp II to Lukla for treatment in the same season, had also paid GR for its package, but got nothing. Australian climber Damian Joseph Bourke and Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Zbigniew Sabisz and Arkadiusz Adam Babij were also evacuated from higher camps in 2017, according to Sherpa. “None of them received GR’s services,” he claimed, adding that an additional $22,000 was spent to save their lives on Mt Everest.

“Global Rescue is not an insurance company and we do not pay for any evacuation that has not been arranged by us,” the company’s Public Relations Manager Ann Shannon said in defence.

Global Rescue claims it was not notified of the incident until the helicopter rescue had been completed and Bhatti had been admitted at Norvic Hospital. “We learnt about his incident when his family contacted Global Rescue on Facebook. We were informed that the Pakistani government had provided the guarantee of payment to Seven Summits for the rescue. We transported Bhatti back to Pakistan (his home of record) after he was discharged from Norvic Hospital,” Shannon said.

Sherpa, however, claimed that they were not aware of Bhatti’s membership with GR. “We put all our efforts to save his life rather than wasting time to identify or contact GR just for the sake of formality,” he said, adding that it was GR’s responsibility to take care of its client, as per the service package they had sold.

“Seven Summit Treks has a pattern of launching their own rescues, not alerting us, and trying to treat Global Rescue as insurance, which we are not,” Shannon added. “On both Bhatti and Mah’s cases, Global Rescue clearly explained to Seven Summits that because they did not notify us nor allowed us to activate and prosecute the rescue, we would not be responsible for the cost of the missions.”

According to Shannon, Global Rescue was ready to activate its partner helicopter, but Seven Summits decided to activate their own helicopter — Heli Everest — to airlift Mah. “We do not have a contact or any working contract with Heli Everest, and it is not a vetted provider.”

Sherpa claimed that GR representatives asked for over a two-hour wait to get their helicopter in place to evacuate Mah. “But, it was a very serious case, so we immediately mobilised the other chopper to save his life.”

Urging GR to make necessary payments of all five evacuations, Sherpa warned that his company was planning to approach the International Court of Justice.

“All rescues were genuine, in which the clients could have lost their lives if the evacuations were delayed,” he said. He also warned travellers, especially high-altitude climbers, not to buy GR package, as they would be putting their lives at risk.

Global Rescue claimed that it performed more than 100 rescue and evacuation missions in the Himalayas, including dozens on Mt Everest in 2017. “Climbers in need are unable to get in touch with GR representatives to inform them about the incidents from the high camps in the Everest,” Sherpa said, terming GR membership provision as illogical.

Despite several attempts, officials at the Pakistani Embassy in Kathmandu couldn’t be reached for comments.