Israelis Injured in Nepal Blizzard Flown Home, as Search Called Off

They suffer from varying degrees of frost bite, doctors say, and some risk having limbs amputated.

Noa Shpigel
Ido Efrati
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Magen David Adom paramedics await the Israelis injured in Nepal.Credit: Magen David Adom
Noa Shpigel
Ido Efrati

A plane carrying seven Israelis injured by last week's deadly blizzards in northern Nepal landed in Israel early Sunday.

The injured suffer from varying degrees of frost bite, one of them sustained injuries to the back and chest and the vision of another was damaged, according to Magen David Adom.

After landing, the Israelis were met by their families and then transferred to local hospitals for continued treatment. Three were taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, and four were brought to Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

"The treatment of the injured will continue in Israel with the help of medical teams specializing in dermatology, plastic surgery, surgery, orthopedics and X-ray," said Prof. Avi Rivkind, Hadassah Medical Center's chief of trauma and emergency medicine, who headed the aid mission to Nepal.

The injured can expect to undergo extensive treatment, said Prof. Rivkind, adding that only then will doctors know how to treat their damaged limbs.

Dr. Refael Strugo, who examined the injured in Nepal with Magen David Adom paramedic Asi Dvilansky, said they were treated well prior to arriving in Israel.

"The doctors in Nepal spared no expense, they consulted with international experts and used new and even experimental medications when necessary," said Dr. Strugo.

"At the same time, the hospital there is small, and that is why we prepared to return the injured to Israel as soon as possible in coordination with the embassies, Foreign Ministry and different insurance agencies," he said.

Dvilansky said treating the injured was an especially sensitive task. "A great deal of time was spent talking to the Israelis, most of whom are young and just out of the army," he said. "Each of the injured has an amazing survival story; many of them are traumatized after being trapped by the storm and having their fates tied with that of their friends. They lived through a harrowing experience that you don't even see in movies."

The injured are not in serious condition, but some are at risk of having limbs amputated due to frost bite, which is why they were rushed back to Israel for treatment.

The plane that transported them is owned by Israeli businessman Dan Gertler and has an American license. That allowed it to fly over Arab countries and shorten the arrival time to Nepal.

The death toll from the blizzard that engulfed trekkers on a popular hiking route in Nepal rose by nine on Saturday to 39, as a helicopter search spotted more bodies stranded in the rugged, snow-covered Himalayan terrain.

Sixty more people were rescued from the Annapurna trail, a three-week route popular with foreign adventure tourists that circles the world's tenth-tallest mountain, bringing the total saved to 371. Dozens more were still missing, including Michal Cherkesky, 36, believed to be the only Israeli still missing.

Rescue teams in Nepal were no longer searching for survivors, the BBC reported on Sunday. A government spokesman said that the focus now is recovering bodies buried in the snow.

'Your elevated morality and love of others were in your blood'

More than a thousand people attended the funeral Sunday of Nadav Shoham of Hoshaya in the Galilee, who was killed in the avalanche. Relatives said that last week they had already heard from fellow hikers that Shoham helped rescue others from the snow, and had carried IAF navigator Tamar Ariel on his back until their strength gave out and they froze to death.

Nadav’s younger brother, Avshalom, eulogized him at the ceremony, saying, “Your elevated morality and your love of others were in your blood and an inseparable part of your personality; and this personality was your guideline, the path on which you walked your whole life. And this personality never changed; not at home in Hoshaya, not in Tel Aviv, not in Jerusalem, not in New York, and not in Nepal. Not at 5,000 meters above sea level, nor in minus-20 degree cold. You knew what you were doing; perhaps you didn’t have a choice because it’s in your blood, but you knew.”

Meanwhile, Nepalese officials were forced to close a section of a popular Himalayan trekking route on Sunday after rescuers, overwhelmed with last week's snowstorms, had to bring to safety new climbers who set out on the same mountain trails where the blizzards struck.

As the weather cleared, new climbers were already making their way up the same trail despite obvious dangers, prompting the government to close the route, Chokhyal said.

"Our rescuers and helicopters ended up having to bring down these new people while we were still trying to reach the ones who were stranded by the blizzard," he said.

"It was burdening and confusing the rescuers so they had to be stopped," he said.

The route was deemed unsafe and invisible in many sections because of the snow dumped by the blizzard.

The death toll from last week's disaster — the worst in Nepal's recent history — went up Saturday after a rescue helicopter spotted nine more bodies.

Ram Chandra Sharma of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal, who is also coordinating the rescue operation, said there were no immediate plans to retrieve the bodies believed to be of Nepalese porters at the Shanta pass area, located at an altitude of 5,100 meters (16,730 feet).

The steep terrain made it impossible for the helicopter to land to pick up the bodies, said Yadav Koirala from the Disaster Management Division in Katmandu.