Kathmandu, August 18
The world’s highest peak witnessed more than 150 helicopter flights to its base camp and above in two months when nearly 300 foreign climbers, along with their mountaineering support staff, attempted to scale Mt Everest in the last spring climbing season.
According to a source at Tenzing Hillary Airport in Lukla, six chopper companies conducted at least 151 flights – 56 in April and 95 in May – above 5,000 m without reporting properly to the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal that they had flown to Camp I and II. “More than 30 per cent of total flights were conducted to camps above the base camp.”
All six companies informed the authority that they had made flights only to the base camp, according to CAAN record. “Chopper captains had only reported to Lukla air traffic control tower that they were only heading to the base camp,” an official said. Chopper flights have been banned above base camp except for emergency rescues, he added.
It’s a failure on part of CAAN to let choppers make unnoticed flights above base camp. Such a practice not only jeopardises passengers’ safety but also contributes to environmental degradation in the Everest region, a climber who returned to the US after summitting Mt Everest said.
Helicopter pilots often flew to higher camps (Camp I and II) for the evacuation of climbers charging up to $10,000 per flight, a base camp manager of an international expedition said. One of the operators of Manang Air Pvt Ltd, Iswari Poudel, also agreed that Manang Air conducted at least 11 rescue flights above the base camp in two months.
“Helicopter companies usually charge $5,000 for base camp, $7,500 for Camp I and $10,000 for Camp II per flight,” Poudel, who is also a board director of CAAN, added. Except for nine flights, which were conducted to ferry summit rope fixing gear to Camp I, most of the flights were conducted to ‘rescue’ the climbers after they complained of severe altitude related sickness.
According to data provided by the Everest ER, the Everest Base Camp Medical Clinic received over 300 patients over the course of seven weeks in the peak climbing season.
A version of this article appears in print on August 19, 2016 of The Himalayan Times.