If you’re climbing or trekking in Nepal and run into serious trouble, who’s going to come save you?
In October and November 2014, I travelled to Kathmandu on assignment for Men’s Journal to write about the nascent effort to bring modern helicopter search and rescue teams to the Himalaya. On Everest and the other commercialized peaks, mountaineers often take it for granted that once they are below 7,000 meters, the operating ceiling for the latest generation of Airbus AS350 B3 helicopters, a rescue is only a sat-phone call away. But in Nepal, nothing is guaranteed. Despite the fact that the country is visited by more than 80,000 tourists annually, and that a sizable slice of its own population lives beyond the road-network, the developing nation lacks even a centralized rescue call center or an emergency alert system.
That’s not to say there aren’t good men willing to answer the call for help. Because there are no air-ambulance services in the country, virtually every helicopter pilot in Nepal is, from time to time, a rescue pilot. To the man, it is a job they take seriously, and will execute to the extreme limits of their abilities. Among this small community of aviators flying in a cowboy country, however, only one outfit could be said to field a competent rescue team: Simrik Air, a private company, whose personnel have engaged in a long term project with the Swiss-based Alpine Rescue Foundation and Air Zermatt to train the first cadre of Nepalese helicopter rescue specialists.
Whether it’s an avalanche on Everest or a trekker with a bad head cold, when a call for help comes out of the high-Himalaya, these are the guys whose job it is to respond.