Here's some pics from a morning when we dropped over 4 tonnes of relief supplies in Khunde, a remote village high in the Himalayas, not far from Mt. Everest. This was just one of the two helicopters that we had flying each day, and this was just in the morning hours. We were scheduling two helicopters to fly a combined total of 16-19 hours a day (8-10 hrs each) during those first weeks, so you can imagine the amount of people and villages we were able to help reach. (Oh, and just so the safety folks don't worry--they had about six pilots trading off, each one only flying a few hours a day and then swapping out with the next guy. The pilots were actually really enjoying it.)
Brent and I had the rare opportunity to go along on the flight that morning to see the impact that the flights were having on the communities and to help unload the supplies. See the story at the end to read about that. I think you'll find it encouraging.
The mountains are seemingly endless--what qualifies as foothills here would dwarf the tallest peaks in the American Rockies. This photo was taken on the way to the region where we were flying that day--these were just tiny mountains compared to the ones to come.
As we got further from Kathmandu, and higher up, the haze vanished and the sky was a brilliant blue. The rugged beauty of the massive mountain peaks belied the devastation of scores of villages on their lower slopes.
The relief supplies were transported several days before, by fixed-wing aircraft, to Lukla (just behind us, further down the valley and not visible in this photo) where there is a short strip carved into the side of a steep mountain. From there, the helicopter made numerous shuttles up this valley, to two village locations at the upper end. The trail to Everest base camp goes right up this valley from Lukla. However many hanging bridges were out, and sections of the trail gone, due to landslides.
Here is Khunde, perched on a saddle nearly 14,000' feet high, surrounded by mountains well over 20,000' tall. The trail you see crossing laterally from left to right, below the village, in the lower part of the photo, is the trail to Everest South Base Camp. Khunde is where we delivered the bulk of the goods that day.
Just up the valley from Khunde, and clearly visible from the helicopter, Mt. Everest claims the title of the highest mountain in the world at 29,028’ (8,848m). In this photo it’s the peak at the top, center, with a long wisp of cloud lifting up and off to it’s right side. Just in front of the visible Everest peak is the large, broad Mt. Nuptse, also a very high mountain, but without a distinct, single peak. To the right is Lhotse, a very famous mountain, connected directly to Everest and ranked the 4th highest mountain on earth at 27,939’ (8,516m).
Here's a few shots of the helicopter moving load after load of relief supplies into Khunde--what would have taken many, many days of hiking (even in normal conditions) was done in the span of a few hours by the AS350B helicopter.
Again, I'd recommend you read the story at the end of this post to see the impact this had on the people.
Many people helped offload the helicopter each time it landed. It took less than 90 seconds to offload nearly 1000 lbs of relief supplies each time. All of the women and children were there too, watching with big smiles on their faces. They were so, so thankful and their gratitude was bubbling over through their expressions.
Brent and I enjoyed the opportunity to be out of the office for a few hours and helping with the grunt work.
Heres some very happy villagers standing in front of an impressive and growing pile of relief supplies. These were going to be divided up among the most needy, some of them being put onto the backs of Yaks and Sherpas and taken even further up and out, into even smaller and more remote locations.
We were deeply humbled by the gestures of gratitude from the people. Again, please read the story at the end to find out more.
A few hours later we were back in the office, busily arranging more relief flights like the one we had just been on--these pictures and the story of these grateful people could be multiplied many hundreds of times over the weeks I was there. It was such a blessing to be playing a small part in the effort to bring help and hope to the people who's lives were devastated by the twin earthquakes in Nepal.
Here is the final story I wrote just before I left:
ON BEHALF OF EVERYONE IN NEPAL—THANK YOU!
Dave Forney, Pilot MAF-Uganda (Currently in Nepal)
Throughout the relief efforts in Nepal, our MAF DR team has been very intentional about utilizing the maximum capacity of the helicopters to deliver the most aid and relief supplies possible on each flight. Translation: we’ve spent 99% of our long working hours either in the office, or out on the ramp, not wanting to take away any valuable space, or weight, on any helicopter flight where food or other relief supplies could, or would, have otherwise ridden. So, imagine my surprise when a few days ago there was a rare opportunity for two of us to join one of the relief flights to one of the most remote and rugged corners of Nepal, without negatively impacting the purpose/capacity of those flights.
An unrelated, charted, helicopter flight heading to a nearby location, was able to carry the extra fuel required by our relief helicopter, which freed up space for us to ride along. My good friends at Fishtail Air—the pilots and flight operations staff with whom I’ve been working so closely over the past few weeks—absolutely insisted that I join the flight. They said, “This is the opportunity we’ve been waiting for. We want you to see, first-hand, the huge impact that the flights are having in these remote communities, and the reason why the helicopters are needed. It is a very rugged area—the famous Everest region. We normally do many flights at this time of year to fly trekkers into and out of this area. We know the people who live in these communities. They are friends of ours. You are a friend of ours. We are thankful for the help that you and MAF are providing, and we want you to meet these people, and see how thankful they are. And also, this is one of the most beautiful parts of Nepal, and we want you, our friend, to see it with your own eyes.”
Well, after trying to find other loading and/or people to join the flight, and making excuses of why I shouldn’t leave the office for that long, or be the one to take up a seat, it was clear that both my friends at Fishtail Air, and my MAF teammates would hear none of it. They insisted I go, and take my camera along to document it all. Also riding along was Brent Palmer, a fellow long-time MAF pilot in Indonesia, recently assigned to IT at HQ in the U.S. Brent, like every other member of our DR team in Nepal, has been working tirelessly behind the scenes, in the office here in Kathmandu, to help make the hundreds of flights we’ve coordinated go off as smoothly as could be possible.
What an opportunity it was! Cpt. Deepak initially flew us up to a small town called Lukla, where many start their long trek to the South Everest Base Camp . Waiting there at the helipad were nearly four tons of relief supplies, all packed and ready to be delivered to two locations further up the valley. From there, Cpt. Ashish picked us up in the second chopper and flew us a few minutes up the valley to one of those locations, a small village called Khunde. Carved into the side of a massive mountain, it sits high above the junction of two deep valleys, one of which leads directly to Mount Everest, clearly visible in the distance. Over the next few hours, Cpt. Deepak flew back and forth many times, tirelessly moving thousands of kilos of tarps, food and other supplies, one load to Mende, followed by seven to Khunde, where we were able to help offload the supplies into the hands of the waiting villagers. What would have taken many days of grueling effort to transport overland (and that’s in “normal” conditions before the many recent landslides), was moved in a matter of hours in the high-altitude-capable AS350 B3 helicopter.
To say that the people were thankful would be a huge understatement! I lost track of how many people, or how many times we were thanked. Some expressed their gratitude through english words, while others used their local language—their words not being understood directly, but their meaning coming through loud and clear. Some communicated simply through their smiles, laughs and uncontainable joy at seeing the relief supplies offloaded. Still others showed their appreciation through continually offering us hot milk-tea and crackers—no doubt precious commodities in a place this remote, and at a time like this. Their gratitude finally culminated in the presentation of a handful of decorative “gather” (scarves) placed over each of our necks by some of the elderly women in the village in an impromptu ceremony that one of the the locals translated for us. He explained the significance of the gifts and gesture—the women expressing their deep gratitude to us, and to MAF, for the help we were bringing to their communities.
We were deeply moved by the whole experience. After so many hours in the office helping to facilitate flights like this, it was so encouraging to see the results on the other end. The deep gratitude of the people, though expressed directly to us, is a message that deservedly goes out to ALL of YOU who’ve played a part in making these relief flights possible, both here in Nepal and throughout the world. The people told us again and again that they had exhausted all the “other options”. They had tried to get relief flights through other avenues. In the end, they said “you were the only ones who would, or could, help.”
Many hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed in that area. But even more worrying to the local people was the fact that landslides had cut off the supply routes overland via Sherpas and pack mules to these very high-altitude, remote communities. Many of the supplies that were brought in that morning were going to be put onto the backs of both Sherpas and yaks, and taken into even more remote locations, and given to those who had yet to receive anything. The sense of concern and desperation in the community, that was so palpable when we first arrived, had all but vanished by the time we left.
A few hours later, we were back in the MAF DR office, in Kathmandu, again working feverishly to facilitate more flights like the one we’d just been on. And once again I was up till midnight trying to sort out the jigsaw puzzle that would become a workable, efficient flight schedule for the next day, and the next, and the next… But I had a new energy and excitement, having seen first-hand both the impact that the flights are having, and the immense geographical barriers that necessitate flights such as this.
And once again I was reminded of how I’m just one very small part of a huge team that’s making it all happen—from each member of the MAF Nepal DR team and our spouses/families to the MAF staff working tirelessly in our home programs and MAF offices around the world; from each member of the Fishtail Staff to the many members of the dozens of NGOs who are responding; from the financial donors who are helping to fund the operation to the many who are praying without ceasing—each is playing their part. And it takes ALL of YOU to make it happen.
So, on behalf of everyone here in Nepal, thank you for the part YOU are playing to make this possible. The people of Nepal are forever grateful!