KATHMANDU, Nepal – Around 400 stranded tourists were airlifted from Lukla and Surke on Sunday. Helicopter and fixed wing aircraft of private airlines along with a Skytruck of Nepal Army (NA) operated 53 fights from Lukla and Surke.
Out of the total flights, 18 flights were to Lamidanda and remaining to the capital.
It is estimated that there are still around 3,500 people at the Lukla airport who are waiting to be airlifted to Kathmandu. President of Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN) Mahendra Singh Thapa said, “Although we don´t have actual figure, there are still 3,500 people stranded at Lukla including more than 2,000 tourists.”
Travel agents said that they were receiving calls from their clients (tourists) saying that they had started facing problems for food and some of them were sick.
According to Airlines Operation Association of Nepal (AOAN), Air Dynasty operated 18 flights in Surke-Lamidanda sector and three flights in Lamidada-Kathmandu sector.
Mountain Helicopters operated nine flights bringing a total of 48 tourists to the capital. Similarly, Simrik Air which operated 11 flights brought 65 tourists to Kathmandu from Surke.
Agni Air, Sita Air and Tara Air operated one, seven and four flights respectively to Kathmandu and Lamidanda from Lukla airport in the morning when the weather improved for sometime.
However, the scheduled chopper of Nepal Army (NA) couldn´t operate the flight because of bad weather. Mi-17, the biggest chopper in operation in the country, ended up landing in Rumjhatar. NA spokesperson Ramindra Chhetri said, “We were able to bring 18 tourists from Lamidanda to Kathmandu by Skytruck.” He further told the Republica that Mi-17 could not continue its flight to Lukla and it couldn´t make its way back to Kathmandu airport either.
Meanwhile, Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN) on Sunday deposited Rs 2 million with NA for carrying out the rescue operation by Mi-17 chopper. TAAN president Mahendra Singh Thapa said, “Apart from bad weather, lengthy bureaucratic formalities are also delaying the rescue operation.” He said the tedious formalities were finally completed on Sunday.
TAAN officials said that it may charge a nominal fee from the rescued tourists just enough to pay NA for the use of its chopper for rescue.
Trekking agents are worried that if immediate rescue is not carried out, it might harm the tourism business. Managing Director of Himalayan Expedition Bikram Pandey said, “We have not received any cancellation so far but if tourists continue to suffer, it might send a negative message to the tourist community across the world.”
He said that the involvement of the government in the rescue operation will certainly improve the image of the country. “The government should have quickly taken steps and should have sought help from the private sector and humanitarian agencies to speed up the rescue operation,” he added.
Tourists along with their guides and porters are stranded in Lukla airport for last seven days after no flight could be conducted from October 31 due to inclement weather.