Israeli Woman Among 22 Still Missing After Nepal Blizzard

Michal Cherkesky, 36, was last seen at the peak of Mount Annapurna; the group's guide fled with her bag.

An Israeli search and rescue team operating in Nepal said Saturday that its efforts are currently focused on searching for Michal Cherkesky, 36, believed to be the only Israeli missing after a deadly blizzard struck the Himalayas on Tuesday.

"Today we participated in the rescue of over 60 hikers in Manang, many
of whom were people we rescued from the higher camps yesterday," said Nadav Kalifa, the leader of the Harel 669 team.

"We can now saw that we are unaware of any Israelis that remain in temporary camps, and we are focusing our search on locating the missing Israeli."

Kalifa said the team was conducting a high-altitude search under difficult conditions and that it would continue conducting manual searches of the area.

AP

Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz of the Chabad mission to Katmandu said he met the missing Israeli before she left for her trek. "She was a friend of Noam Havlin, who was killed in an avalanche here 13 years ago. For her, visiting here was coming a full circle." Lifshitz said Cherkesky was very excited to go on the trek and spoke to his wife about the events that took place over a decade ago.

Lifshitz added that many of the Israeli tourists that were rescued had come to the Chabad mission and were talking about what happened. "The people are telling horrific tales of attempts to save one another with great bravery. The would-be rescuers were to be the survivors. People exhibited comradeship, of which they paid with their lives. People simply lost their strength and died on their way."

Cherkesky's family has been in contact with the rescue teams on the ground and has managed to speak with trekkers who were with her when the storm began. According to the witnesses, she was last seen close to the peak of Mount Annapurna, and the group's Nepalese guide fled down the mountain with her bag.

"The signs are worrying," her brother, Lior Koren, told Haaretz.

He said the family last heard from Cherkesky was on October 8, when she sent them photos of her trip.

While most of the trekkers – some 200 people – in the area had been rescued, according to Nepalese officials, 22 people were still missing after unseasonal weather in peak trekking season unleashed avalanches on the 240-kilometer (150-mile) route around Annapurna, the world's 10th-tallest peak.

Air-lift to Israel

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The body of Nadav Shoham, who was killed in the blizzard, was due to arrive in Israel on Saturday evening on a flight from Istanbul. The bodies of the rest of the Israeli casualties were expected to arrive the following week, according to the Foreign Ministry.

In addition, a flight from Delhi, chartered by Israeli insurance companies to evacuate the Israelis injured in the blizzard, was due to land at 3:30 A.M. Sunday.

Earlier Saturday, a doctor from the Hadassah Medical center and another emergency medical doctor landed in Katmandu to collect the injured. The plane was to leave Katmandu and make its way back to Israel as soon as possible after the process of releasing the wounded from the Katmandu hospital is completed, a Foreign Ministry Spokesman Alon Lavi said.

Paramedic Assi Dvilanski and Dr. Rafi Strugo, head of Magen David Adom's medical division, arrived in Nepal on Friday night to treat the injured Israelis and prepare them for evacuation.

In addition to seven Israelis whose injuries are most serious and who were expected to be evacuated by plane on Saturday evening, nine others are still in hospital, some with less serious injuries and others with post-traumatic stress symptoms.

At least 39 people were killed in the blizzard, including foreign travelers, Nepalese guides and local villagers. Among the dead were three Israelis: Agam Luria, 23, Tamar Ariel, 25, and Nadav Shoham, 30.

Unequipped for weather

One of the hikers who got stranded in the storm recalled the ordeal.

"We were among those who didn't make it to the peak," said Smadar Magal of Kfar Ma'as, who had joined her daughter Shoval on part of the latter's post-army trip. "We were on the bottom half of the mountain and going through 30 hours of unceasing rain. It began on Monday at 5 P.M. and continued until Wednesday morning without a break.

"The only updates we got were via the Nepalese and they didn't know anything. There were those who said it would continue for a week and those who said that it would end soon. We decided to continue in the rain and it wasn't easy. All around us was mud and mud slides.

"On the way to Manang we began to see how dangerous the situation was. Everything was snowed in."

Magal said that she and her daughter were not equipped for the weather they encountered. At a certain point, Shoval started having eye problems. "A sort of snow blindness: cuts in the eye, dizziness and blood," Magal said. "We understood that we couldn't continue with her in such a state."

They were eventually evacuated by helicopter, treated in hospital and are now in a hotel in Kathmandu, trying to recover.