The Cable

U.S. Marine Helicopter Disappearance Shows Perils of Nepal Rescue Operations

A missing Marine helicopter shows how dangerous relief efforts in Nepal can be for foreign governments and aid organizations.

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The disappearance of a U.S. Marine helicopter in Nepal shows just how fraught relief efforts in the country, ravaged by a recent earthquake and a series of powerful aftershocks, can be for foreign militaries and aid organizations trying to dig the Nepalese people out of the rubble.

The Pentagon confirmed Tuesday that a Marine UH-1 Huey, conducting relief work near Charikot, Nepal, is missing. Six Marines and two Nepalese Army soldiers were onboard. In a statement, the Defense Department said emergency personnel are responding to the alert.

The Marines’ efforts are part of a larger push to get aid to Nepal, which has been devastated by an April 25 7.8 magnitude earthquake that left buildings in ruin, climbers on Mount Everest scrambling to survive an avalanche, and some Nepalese running into the streets in search of safety. A series of aftershocks, including one Tuesday, only added to the devastation. According to official estimates, 8,151 are now dead.

The Pentagon operation is part of a broader effort by American relief organizations, as well as U.S.-based climbing companies that charge hikers tens of thousands of dollars to attempt to scale Everest, the highest peak in the world. Captain Randy Bittinger, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department in suburban Virginia, told FP recently that an emergency response team from his department — including 57 of task force workers and six canine handlers — was dispatched to Nepal to assist U.S. efforts there.

Gordon Janow, director of programs at Alpine Ascents International, a Seattle-based company that hosts ascents to Everest’s peak, said his organization donated food and medical supplies already in Nepal to rescue efforts.

“We’ve got a host of supplies at Base Camp from the expeditions,” he said. “A lot of people walked out [of Everest base camp] and a lot of people who needed help got evacuated.”

Other countries, including India and China, are also sending relief workers and supplies to Nepal. The government in Kathmandu, rotted by years of corruption, is struggling to adequately respond to the scale of the disaster, the worst earthquake in Nepal since 1934.

The Defense Department calls its efforts in Nepal “Operation Sahayogi Haat.” According to a recent news release, a team of 300 and a series of military aircraft are conducting relief operations there, working with USAID to deliver 50 tons of relief supplies and transport people out of disaster zones. The service members involved in the operation are stationed at the U.S. military base at Okinawa, Japan.

Photo Credit: Roberto Schmidt/AFP

 

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