The Accident at Tashi Lapsa Pass – Part Seven: “Ready to Go?”

It’s finally time for the medi-vac Helicopter to fly Louise and her rescue team back down the mountain and to hospital in Kathmandu.

 

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From the moment we boarded the helicopter things seemed to move much quicker than they had for most of the day. As the helicopter was rising off the ridge the main pilot called out to Lakpa, but in English for my benefit; “Hey! Your timing was perfect: 10 minutes later and it may have been too late for us to come and pick you up!”

Helicopters have strict flying curfews. Those flying into Lukla from the higher valleys must land by 4:00pm. Those departing Lukla for Kathmandu must leave by 4:00pm to be on the ground in Kathmandu by 5:00pm. We had been picked up off the ridge in Thame at 3:45pm. It would take us less than 10 minutes to fly down to Lukla – just in time to depart from Lukla at 4:00pm and fly back to Kathmandu before 5:00pm.

 

Lukla's famous sloping runway

Lukla’s famous sloping runway

 

I sat in the helicopter feeling very little other than relief. My left hand was still clutching at Lakpa’s arm, not yet ready to let go of the person who had been my lifeline since my accident. My right hand held my leg steady so the broken ends of the bone didn’t rub together. The friendly young liaison officer was talking to me too, telling me everything was okay and that I was very lucky.  He also tried to distract me by pointing things out from the helicopter window – mountains, monasteries, Namche Bazaar. It was in fact a spectacular trip down the narrow valley to Lukla. I have walked up this valley several times and watched the helicopters flying overhead en-route to Everest Base Camp, Lobuche and Thame for sightseeing purposes – but often also for the purpose of medical evacuation.

Now it was my turn.

As we flew over the villages I had walked through with my husband and daughter less than one week before I thought about how quickly, and without warning, life can change.

 

Aerial view of the town of Lukla, with the famous sloping runway - built by Sir Edmund Hilary in 1961.

Aerial view of the town of Lukla, with the famous sloping runway – built by Sir Edmund Hilary in 1961.

 

At 3:55pm the helicopter flew up the Lukla runway and set down on the nearby helipad. Lakpa and the liaison officer jumped out. Lakpa’s wife, Mingma, and their two children were waiting at the helipad. She had been looking after Bijay and our daughter for more than three hours while they all waited anxiously to hear further word about us after Nima had given the initial message about my accident in Ngole.

Shortly afterward I could see Bijay quickly making his way down the footpath towards the helipad with Shanaia, our daughter, in the sling on his back. Sanghe, our second guide was coming behind with the remaining bags. Watching them coming towards the helicopter, after all that had happened today, I felt myself loosing emotional control.

Bijay came up and squeezed my hand and asked a few brief questions about the extent of the break in my leg as this had not been fully communicated by Nima this morning. Two-year-old Shanaia regarded me with a mixture of fear and recognition and burst into tears. The rest of our belongings were placed in the very back of the helicopter. Bijay climbed into the helicopter on my right side with Shanaia on his lap. She was still very wary of me but with my bruised, dirty, and probably pale face, this was scarcely surprising.

Since the phone call from Nima was received by Bijay at 11:45am this morning, their lives had been thrown into chaos as well and Shanaia had missed her afternoon sleep. Just before the helicopter took off Lakpa came up to where I was sitting in the back seat and briefly took my hand. I couldn’t say anything; the intense gratitude I felt couldn’t be expressed. Lakpa and his family lived in Lukla so they were not coming with us, but Sanghe was. Lakpa stepped back and Sanghe jumped in slamming the door of the helicopter behind him. ‘Ready to go?, asked the pilot. As the helicopter rose for the second time we all waved to Lakpa and his family standing below.

 

 

About Louise Currie

Originally from Australia, although I have been living in Nepal since 2005. I worked for a long time for an international aid agency in Kathmandu. I am interested in community development and having adventures in remote places. I am married with one daughter.

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