Sherpas need safer pass, Kiwi firm says

Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
sherpa
Reuters
GRIEF-STRICKEN: A daughter of one of the Nepali mountaineering guides killed in the avalanche cries as she is comforted by a relative at Sherpa Monastery in Kathmandu.

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For every successful expedition on Mt Everest, Guy Cotter was thankful.

Thankful, because he knew one day a serious - if not fatal - icefall was going to happen.

He was right.

April 18 became Everest's worst disaster after 16 sherpas were killed at the Khumbu Icefall - three of whom were a part of Cotter's company the Adventure Consultants crew.

"Some might say it was a matter of time. We all had hoped it wouldn't have happened. At the end of every season we had been thankful it hadn't happened," Cotter said.

"Ever since we first went there [in the early 1990s], it was a risk . . . This is one of those places where hazards exists and will continue to be a risk."

Before the season started this year, he lobbied the Nepal government to allow a helicopter to be used to transport equipment above the notorious icefall to make it safer for sherpas.

The helicopters would be used for only one day before climbers arrived and one day after the season to take the gear away.

The area was the most hazardous for sherpas, who could pass the icefall up to 18 times a season, where as further up the mountain was more hazardous for climbers.

"We will continue to lobby for what we believe is the right regulations and adjustments to regulations to reduce the exposure [of risk] to sherpas," he said.

However, a similar accident could happen at any time, he said.

"We are very realistic that all we are trying to do is reduce exposure," he said.

The Adventure Consultants team who led the rescue co-ordination after the icefall have arrived back in Wanaka and preparations are under way for next year's expedition.

Cotter said despite it being the most "harrowing and heart-wrenching" day, the rescue effort on Mt Everest showcased Kiwi ingenuity and spirit.

Adventure Consultants base camp manager Caroline Blaikie led the rescue mission.

By 3pm on the day of the tragedy, all survivors had been flown to hospital for treatment.

That would not have been the case if it was not for New Zealand pilot Jason Laing.

Blaikie had called for a Nepalese pilot to get to the icefall site straight away.

However, the pilot refused to land, and would not land at a village further down the mountain to ferry casualties.

"He wasn't interested," Blaikie said.

Blaikie called on Laing, who was in Kathmandu at the time, and he and a pilot from Simrik Helicopters flew to Everest to put their mountain flying skills to use.

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Laing made flight after flight that day, using his long cables to rescue four injured sherpas and haul out 13 bodies. "That really showed to us how great it was to have Jason on hand," Blaikie said.

"Although it was a totally harrowing and heart-wrenching day, there was a sense of pride at the end," she said.

"Without having that Kiwi contingent it would have been a less well-organised rescue," Cotter said. 

- The Southland Times

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