Rescuers perform uphill task

Suketar (Taplejung), Sept 27:

For Chhiring Yangdey Bhote, who led the search and rescue team looking for the 24 passengers of the helicopter that crashed in Taplejung’s Ghunsa, it was indeed a Herculean task.

Bhote said collecting the corpses from the site was a difficult task due to steep terrain. “It was the toughest of all rescue operations in my life,” said Bhote, who oversaw the retrieval of the bodies of the 24 persons who perished on Ghunsa’s Phale ridge. Bhote has participated in dozens of such operations, both at home and abroad.

He was involved in the rescue of a French national who went missing in the Meta Himal and also of a tourist who had disappeared in the Sagarmatha zone while skiing. He has headed dozens of rescue operations abroad, including New Zealand and Switzerland.

Bhote’s hands were black with the ashes of the victims when he reached Suketar airport with their bodies. His face and clothes were smudged with blood. He said the rescue mission was hampered because of high mountains and difficult topography. “It was only due to the tenacity of team members and cooperation of locals that we could retrieve the bodies,” he said.

Bhote has scaled Sagarmatha five times. “This operation was more difficult than scaling Sagarmatha,” Bhote said. He was joined by some other rescuers who also hold the record of scaling Sagarmatha. Strong winds and steep terrain made the rescue operation difficult, he told this daily. He added the helicopter crash at Dhungsi was incomparable with similar accidents in other countries. “I had to walk for six hours carrying corpses,” said Prem Gurung, a rescuer who was with Bhote. “It was a cliff-hanger, in a literal sense,” Gurung said of his hazardous foray.

Had it not been for the locals who showed the way to the crash site, the operation would have been a total failure, Bhote added. The weather worsened because of snowfall.

The team members’ hands were frozen stiff and they had to dive repeatedly into the tents to warm them.

The corpses, wrapped in blankets, were brought to Phale. The combined weight of the bodies was only 150 kg. “This is the first instance in the history of Nepali aviation disaster that entire bodies could not be collected,” said a Nepal Army officer.