Himalayan Experience brings us this firsthand account of the recent avalanche and subsequent rescue mission on Mount Manaslu.
The morning of 23rd started with a radio message from another team at 05.10 to say that their camp 3 had been avalanched and that two of their members were missing and one was left with very little equipment standing in the open. For the first time on this expedition the sky was clear so I was able to see through our telescope that there had been a massive serac collapse that had propagated a large slab avalanche that had travelled down part of the climbing route. I could see many head lamps already on the avalanche debris so figured that rescue teams were already on site.
It appears that the avalanche occurred at about 04.45 and started from an altitude of about 7,400m and swept down the mountain to an altitude of 6,300m. The day before had been cloudy so I had no idea as to how many teams might have been camped in this avalanche path. Although we have endeavoured to compile a list of radio frequencies from all the teams that are on the mountain, many teams had not supplied this information, or are
not using radios with a set frequency so others are not able to contact them. My first response was to call all the radio frequencies that I had listed. I was able to make contact with just a few of the expedition groups, some were involved in the avalanche and had lost their radios, others were busy helping and others were still not awake. By 05.30 I had called our office in Kathmandu to explain the situation and requested that we have 2 helicopters put on standby to come to help with the rescue here at Manaslu.
I have heard that there is critisisum of how long it took for helicopters to arrive, but I need to explain just a little about this process. Although I notified my agency, and they in turn notified the helicopter companies, it is not for me or my agency to actually call the helicopters as we did not require rescue. Firstly the representatives of the companies that required help at
BC needed to call their agents in Kathmandu, then those agents needed to contact the various insurance companies of clients to get authorisation for a helicopter rescue and then the agents needed to contact the helicopter companies of their preference to organise a rescue. Of course all this takes time and must deal with different time zones and the like. To complicate matters more we did not have names or numbers of victims, so this makes it very difficult to progress. In the event, the helicopter companies agreed that a rescue was more important and that paperwork would have to be sorted out later. A further complication was that this was the first fine weather day in Kathmandu for many days, so some of the helicopters had already been dispatched on other work, and some of the helicopters had not been able to return to Kathmandu from previous missions due to bad weather. But in the end we did get the Simrik B3e helicopter (the most powerful and best machine to conduct high altitude rescues in Nepal) here to do the high altitude section of the rescue, and we also had a B3 helicopter from Mountain Helicopters doing the ferry from BC to Samagon. Captain Saddarth from Simrik Air arrived at 09.45 and started the evacuation of injured climbers.
In the mean while by default I had become rescue co-ordinator here at BC. During this time I had to send my Sherpas to various camps who we figured were involved in the avalanche but the staff had not woken up at BC. Sometime I had to send many runners in order to stress the urgency for these staff members to come to my camp. Often they had to return to collect name lists from their tents. Some of the expedition leaders had locked their name lists away along with money and the like, so we had to stress to staff members that they had to break into these security boxes so as we could get name lists. This all takes time. Then I had to convince these staff members to call their agencies in Kathmandu to ask them for help. In typical Nepal style there is much talking, and total confusion, which takes considerable time.