Four days after the massive earthquake in Nepal, rescue crews have managed to reach hikers stranded in the frozen lake region of Langtang National Park. The hikers included about 50 Israelis, some of whom had sent out calls of distress following the quake, reporting food shortages and violent confrontations with local Nepalese.
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Currently about 20 of the Israelis have been rescued from the area – with some of them now making their way to the Israeli embassy in Kathmandu – along with a number of locals.
Langlang, a mountainous region north of Kathmandu, is traditionally a big attraction for trekkers from around the world.
Ironically, after an avalanche in the area last October killed Tamar Ariel, the Israeli Air Force’s first female Orthodox navigator, Langtang became more popular with Israeli hikers. One group was staying in a hut wedged in a valley between mountains there, giving rise to concerns that additional avalanches would be set off by aftershocks from Saturday’s quake.
On Tuesday morning, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a warning about violence by Nepalese around the country since the earthquake.
A team arriving to rescue Israelis on two civilian helicopters in the morning was delayed by an onslaught by locals on the aircraft, the ministry said. Reports from hikers raised the specter of looting and attacks by locals in search of basic necessities.
“We need to get out of here today!” Shahar Zakai, one of a group of some 10 Israeli hikers, wrote in a message from Langtang.
Meanwhile, Tami Ganon, whose daughter Ofir had been hiking with Zakai, said she had been receiving messages via satellite telephone that their lives were in real danger.
“We are getting distress calls from them all the time but no one has yet reached them,” the mother said. “For the time being, 25 people from the entire region have been rescued,” she added.
There was one report that the first helicopter to land in the region was set upon by Nepalese, and that the provisions onboard were looted.
Reports of violence
The distress calls sent by Zakai's group included descriptions of violence directed at the Israelis by Nepalese, who reportedly hit them with sticks and stones.
“[The rescue teams] must do everything to get to them,” said Tami Ganon, who said she heard that there was a point at which the locals tried to drive the Israelis out.
“They have nowhere to go. They are between two avalanche sites,” she continued, noting that the group had to beg the locals to let them stay there for another night.
Ofir Ganon’s brother added that the information that the family in Israel is getting is not just rumor, as they are in direct contact with people on the site and know exactly what is happening there.
“[The locals] are accusing the Israelis of some kind of theft of money, but they just want to harass them,” said Ganon, adding that the Nepalese in the Langtang area even threatened to prevent rescue teams from getting the Israelis out.
“It’s important to understand that this group is in greater distress than the other groups, because in addition to the difficulties [posed by] nature, they are also in conflict with people,” he said.
For her part, Orna Torati – whose 22-year-old son Raviv, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letzion, had been traveling around Nepal – told Haaretz on Monday that she didn’t even know the name of the area where her son is.
Said Torati: “I know they had been on their way to a festival in Kathmandu. They are [a group of] 20 folks, stranded in the Himalayas, waiting to be rescued. They are in particularly uncomfortable weather conditions, waiting for tents. It’s raining on them and they have limited amounts of food and water.”
According to official figures, prior to the arrival of the rescue teams Tuesday, there were an estimated 50 Israelis at Langtang, 15 on Mt. Everest and other 20 at Annapurna and at a site known as The Last Resort. Israel made an official request to the Nepalese army chief of staff for a military helicopter to help rescue those at Langtang.
Also on Tuesday, Israeli medical teams reached the site near Kathmandu’s military hospital where they will set up their own field hospital, to be served by a helicopter landing pad. Their equipment was due to arrive later in the day and by Wednesday morning, the field hospital was expected to receive its first patients. Several Israeli doctors were also sent to assist staffs at local hospitals.
The Israeli field hospital will have a staff of 120, 60 beds, two operating rooms, an X-ray and ultrasound room, blood-testing labs, two incubators for premature babies, and eight intensive-care beds.