Survivors battle for helicopters near Nepal village that vanished

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Video Shows the Moment Nepal Earthquake Hits Village Near Langtang

(Reuters) - It was three foreign trekkers who used their satellite telephone to call the rescue helicopter that landed in Nepal's Langtang Valley around midday on Tuesday, April 28. Three days earlier, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had triggered a catastrophic landslide that buried hundreds of people in one village in the valley.

But villagers clung to the chopper's landing skids, preventing it from taking off, witnesses said. They then led the uninjured foreign trekkers out of the aircraft and carried injured Nepalis aboard, including a toddler with broken legs, at a rescue in another village, Kyanjin Gompa.

"Most helicopters were coming to pick up the foreigners, who were healthy, not our injured people," said Lhakpa Jangba, a local baker who was interviewed at a monastery in Kathmandu after his evacuation from the valley last week.

"We said to the foreigners, 'You are healthy. Stay one or two more days and let our injured people go.'"

Rescue workers are struggling to recover the bodies of nearly 300 people, including about 110 foreigners, believed to be buried under up to six meters (20 feet) of ice, snow and rock from the landslide that destroyed Langtang Village. So far, the bodies of nine foreigners have been recovered. That makes Langtang one of the worst-hit sites in a disaster whose toll throughout Nepal has reached 7,759 dead with over 16,400 injured.

39 PHOTOS
4/28 Nepal earthquake relief & recovery (updated 5/1)
See Gallery
Survivors battle for helicopters near Nepal village that vanished
Nepalese soldiers unload relief material brought in by an Indian air force helicopter for victims of Saturday’s earthquake in Melamchi at Sindhupalchowk district, Nepal, Friday, May 1, 2015. The U.N. said the quake affected 8.1 million people, more than a fourth of Nepal's population of 27.8 million, and that more than 1.4 million needed food assistance. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
Nepalese soldiers run to unload relief material brought in by an Indian air force helicopter for victims of Saturday’s earthquake in Melamchi at Sindhupalchowk district, Nepal, Friday, May 1, 2015. The U.N. said the quake affected 8.1 million people, more than a fourth of Nepal's population of 27.8 million, and that more than 1.4 million needed food assistance. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers load an aid helicopter with relief supplies in Majuwa village, near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. In Gorkha, five cargo trucks filled with rice, cooking oil and sugar stood on a grassy field in Majuwa village waiting for a helicopter from Kathmandu to take the supplies to the hardest-hit areas of that district. Unlike in Nepal's capital, where most buildings were spared complete collapse, the tiny hamlets clinging to the remote mountainsides of Gorkha District have been ravaged. Entire clusters of homes were reduced to piles of stone and splintered wood. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Nepalese women and children receive food distributed by a non-government organization in the center of Kathmandu on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepalese children play outside their tent shelter in Kathmandu on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Nepalese villager woman looks out from amongst makeshift tents at Laprak village, in northern-central Gorkha district on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - APRIL 30: Nepalese victims of the eartquake buy vegetables in a street market in Bhaktapur on April 30, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 5500 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - APRIL 30: Sanjhana Tamang takes care of her daughter Simran Tamang, 3, as she lays in bed at a temporary hospital suffering from Typhoid fever after the earthquake in Shanku on April 30, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 5500 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - 2015/04/30: Nepali soldiers and civilians try to pull down a dangerous section of severely damaged wall that is in danger of collapsing in Bhaktapur, Nepal on April 30, 2015. On April 25, 2015, Nepal suffered a magnitude 7.8 earthquake killing over 5,000 people and injuring thousands more. (Photo by Taylor Weidman/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A Nepalese family sit outside makeshift tents at Laprak village, in northern-central Gorkha district on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Nepalese mother sits with her child outside makeshift tents at Laprak village, in northern-central Gorkha district on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Nepalese injured mother and daughter sit inside an Indian Army helicopter after they were rescued from Laprak village, in northern-central Gorkha district on April 30, 2015. The UN launched an appeal for Nepalese quake survivors in dire need of shelter, food and medical care April 30 as anger boiled at the government's inability to cope with a disaster that has killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO / SAJJAD HUSSAIN (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepalese youth, Pemba Tamang,15, is treated by Israeli Army medic soldiers at the Israeli field hospital following his rescue earlier in the day in Kathmandu on April 30, 2015. Rescuers pulled a 15-year-old boy alive from the rubble of Nepal's earthquake April 30, bringing a rare moment of joy to the ruined capital Kathmandu, five days after a disaster which killed more than 5,500 people. AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL - APRIL 29: Nepalese Army Police memebers search for victims among debris of a house on April 29, 2015 in Bhaktapur, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL - APRIL 29: A Nepalese victim of the earthquake searchs for her belongings among debris of her house on April 29, 2015 in Bhaktapur, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Nepal army soldiers unload relief material from an Indian Air Force helicopter at earthquake affected Dhadingbesti, in Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The first aid shipments reached a hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal's earthquake, a U.N. food agency official said, and distribution of food and medicine would start Wednesday, five days after the quake struck. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Survivors of Saturday's earthquake hold on to a cable as a military takes off with evacuees from Kathmandu to New Delhi during a midnight rescue mission by Indian Air Force, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Nepal Army personnel drop relief materials at Larpak village in Gorkha, north-central Nepal on April 29, 2015, following a devastating earthquake on April 25. Desperate Nepalis clashed with riot police and seized supplies of bottled water in the capital April 29 as anger boiled over among survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people. AFP PHOTO/PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - APRIL 29: A young girl waits on board a bus to be evacuated from the city center on April 29, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
A Nepalese child injured in Saturday's earthquake is taken on a stretcher after being evacuated from higher reaches of mountains by Nepalese army soldiers, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The first aid shipments reached a hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal's earthquake, a U.N. food agency official said, and distribution of food and medicine would start Wednesday, five days after the quake struck. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - APRIL 29: A member of the army stands watch over a destroyed temple in Bashantapur on April 29, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL - APRIL 29: Thousands of people queue on the street outside a government building as they wait for free bus rides out of the city center on on April 29, 2015 in Kathmandu, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL - APRIL 29: Nepalese victims of the earthquake search for their belongings among debris of their homes on April 29, 2015 in Bhaktapur, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Houses on the higher reaches of mountains destroyed in Saturday’s earthquake are seen from a helicopter near Dhadingbesti, in Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The first aid shipments reached a hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal's earthquake, a U.N. food agency official said, and distribution of food and medicine would start Wednesday, five days after the quake struck. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
An injured victim of Saturdy's earthquake is transported to hospital after being evacuated by Indian Air Force, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The first aid shipments reached a hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal's earthquake, a U.N. food agency official said, and distribution of food and medicine would start Wednesday, five days after the quake struck. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
Villagers wait in the rain as an aid relief helicopter lands at their remote mountain village of Gumda, near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake in the Gorkha District of Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Destroyed villages sit on mountain tops near the epicenter of Saturday's massive earthquake, in the Gorkha District of Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. Aid reached the hilly district near the epicenter of Nepal's earthquake for the first time Wednesday. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
Survivors of Saturday's earthquake read newspaper at a makeshift camp in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. A strong earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu valley on Saturday. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL - APRIL 29: Nepalese victims of the earthquake search for their belongings among debris of their homes on April 29, 2015 in Bhaktapur, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Nepalese residents wait to board buses to leave Kathmandu at a main bus stand in Kathmandu on April 29, 2015, to leave the Nepalese capital following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck the Himalayan nation on April 25. Nepalese riot police battled to contain anger among survivors of an earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people as rescuers raced against time to find anyone else alive in the rubble of the capital Kathmandu. Supplies are running thin and aftershocks have strained nerves in the ruined city. Desperate to leave, thousands of people began gathering from before dawn outside the main bus station after the government promised to lay on special services. AFP PHOTO / MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL - APRIL 29: Nepalese victims of the earthquake search for their belongings among debris of their homes on April 29, 2015 in Bhaktapur, Nepal. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving over 4600 dead and many more trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Rescuers from Japan are seen in the historical centre of Kathmandu on April 29, 2015, following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake which struck the Himalayan nation on April 25. Rescuers are facing a race against time to find survivors of a mammoth earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people when it through Nepal five days ago and devastated large parts of one of Asia's poorest nations. AFP PHOTO/Philippe LOPEZ (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
People pay their last tributes to victims of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal, after their bodies arrived in Gauhati, India, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The bodies of six women victims arrived in Gauhati on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
An Indian girl cries near the coffin of her mother Hema Prabha Saikia, a victim of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal, in Gauhati, India, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. The bodies of six women victims arrived in Gauhati on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Anupam Nath)
This photo taken early on April 29, 2015 shows a survivor (C) being carried out of a damaged building by a French rescue team after being trapped for 82 hours in earthquake-hit Kathmandu. The death toll from the April 25 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 28 was more than 5,000, with another 8,000 people injured, while the United Nations estimated that eight million people had been affected. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
TIBET, CHINA - APRIL 28: (CHINA OUT) (EDITORS NOTE: Image is highest resolution available.) Border soldiers press forward Zhangmu Town which lose contact with outside world for 70 hours after 8.1-magnitude earthquake hitting Nepal and spreading to Tibet on April 28, 2015 in Tibet Autonomous Region, China. A major 7.8 earthquake hit Kathmandu mid-day on Saturday, and was followed by multiple aftershocks that triggered avalanches on Mt. Everest that buried mountain climbers in their base camps. Many houses, buildings and temples in the capital were destroyed during the earthquake, leaving thousands dead or trapped under the debris as emergency rescue workers attempt to clear debris and find survivors. Regular aftershocks have hampered recovery missions as locals, officials and aid workers attempt to recover bodies from the rubble. (Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
Damaged houses are seen from an Indian Army helicopter following an earthquake in the Nepalese area of Gorkha on April 28, 2015. Hungry and desperate Nepalese villagers rushed towards a relief helicopter begging to be airlifted to safety April 28, 2015, after a huge earthquake that has killed at least 4,349 people devastated their remote community. Terrified residents of Lapu in Gorkha, some of the eight million people the UN said were affected by the April 25, 2015 quake, ran with outstretched arms to the Indian army chopper, pleading for much-needed food and water. AFP PHOTO / Sajjad Hussain (Photo credit should read SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Nepalese students and volunteers clear the rubble at Kathmandu Durbar Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Wednesday, April 29, 2015. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal’s capital and the densely populated Kathmandu valley on Saturday devastating the region and leaving tens of thousands shell-shocked and sleeping in streets. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Langtang Lirung, the 7,234-metre (23,734 feet) mountain looming over the Langtang Valley, shook violently, survivors recalled. It then shed a gigantic slice that fell hundreds of feet, launching a massive torrent of air, snow, ice and rock upon the village and its 55 guesthouses, brimming with trekkers at the start of the climbing season.

The stunning landscapes of Langtang Valley, the nearest Himalayan region to Kathmandu, which lies 60 km (35 miles) to the south, make it popular with foreign climbers and trekkers.

This is the second successive year a catastrophe on the roof of the world has disrupted the climbing season. Last year, sherpas threatened a boycott of Mt. Everest expeditions after 16 were killed in an avalanche on the perilous Khumbu icefall. Eighteen died at Everest Base Camp in April's quake. It's a big business: Everest expedition companies charge clients between $40,000 and $90,000, depending on the number of guides and other services they want. Sherpas can make as little as $1,000 in a whole season.

Those who come to the Langtang Valley are a mix of experienced climbers and adventure trekkers.

"Everest is for very specialized, skilled climbers, while those in Langtang were people on adventure holidays – most without any guides," said Prachanda Man Shrestha, a former head of Nepal's tourism department. "Anyone can get to Langtang, you are walking at high altitude, but if you are reasonably fit you can go there."

'SUBTERRANEAN UNIVERSE'

U.S. mountaineer Kevin Krogh was filming people fleeing a shaking guest house in Kyanjin Gompa in the Langtang Valley in the midst of the quake. The video abruptly ends with people looking back toward the Langtang Himal range as a foggy cloud enters the frame.

Krogh, 32, and his wife, Kat Heldman, 40, had left Langtang Village early Saturday morning with the rest of their party for the three-hour trek to Kyanjin Gompa.

The quake was "like nothing I've ever seen in California", real estate broker Heldman told Reuters in a telephone interview from her home in San Diego after her evacuation.

"We see this giant cloud of white. It was moving very fast - we knew it was an avalanche. Our guide screamed: 'Avalanche, run!' We ran through the town as fast as we could, but you can't outrun an avalanche."

Heldman said she ran about 100 feet before diving behind a wall just as the juggernaut of ice, rock and snow caught up to her. She crouched down, putting up her arms "so that I know which way is up if I'm buried". Someone else came up behind her and she grabbed onto him until the avalanche ended. "When it stopped, and it did stop, we could stand up. He had lost his shoes."

She looked around and saw Krogh digging out another member of their party, Oscar Olea. "If you were on the wrong side of a building, you were going to get buried," Heldman said.

She ran into the guest house to get some rescue gear, past a British trekker. "His face was totally bloody - just standing there holding this baby. He gave it to the mother."

Frightened yaks and horses wandered around "a subterranean universe - all gray and white", she recalled.

Her party had hired two guides from a Nepali company called Expedition Himalaya, along with two cooks and 15 porters. They had intended to climb the majestic 6,387-metre (19,680 feet) Gangchempo peak in Langtang National Park.

Instead, they set up a triage station and a dining tent and went in search of the missing. The fellow climber shown on Krogh's video fleeing from the guest house, nurse Brigida Martinez, treated a number of head wounds after the avalanche. The group had 12 days of food for their expedition that they intended to share with survivors.

UNDER THE OVERHANG

Toyanath Rijal was just outside Langtang Village scouting for a location to build a mobile telephone tower when the quake knocked him and three colleagues off their feet.

First, he said he heard a sound like thunder, then an almighty crack. He turned to see a chunk of rock and ice sliding down the mountain, sweeping away everything before it. "It was like watching a wave crashing down the hillside," said Rijal, 40, interviewed in Dhunche, a town in the foothills of Langtang National Park and the base for recovery operations in Langtang.

The landslide was so powerful it traveled across a plateau below the mountain range, over a river and up the other side of the valley, he said.

Rijal watched all this from under a 40-foot high slab of overhanging rock where he had scrambled for shelter with his colleagues.

When the avalanche passed, Rijal fell to his knees clutching his upanayana, the sacred thread devout Hindus wear around their neck, and wept. "I have been given another opportunity in life and there must be a reason for that," he said. "I'm going to use it."

He spent the next three nights living in the open, scavenging for food and firewood around the smothered landscape of Langtang Village, where only one building was left partly standing.

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR THE MISSING

Back in California, Kat Heldman's sister Caroline began calling satellite phone numbers that she obtained from Expedition Himalaya as soon as she heard about the earthquake in Nepal that Saturday, April 25. "I begged her expedition company to give me whatever satphone numbers they knew of in the region for guides," Caroline Heldman said in an email interview from Los Angeles, where she is a political science professor at Occidental College. "I called them one after another until I found her."

Thirty hours later, calling almost nonstop, she finally got through to Oscar Olea, the climber her sister's husband had dug out of the avalanche at Kyanjin Gompa. "I didn't even know I was talking to him at first. I didn't know they were there. Honestly, according to their itinerary, I thought they were buried in Langtang Village."

On the other end of the line, Kat Heldman was also disoriented. "It took me a while to realize who was calling... that was the first time she knew that we were alive."

It was only then, when Caroline updated her with the news of the quake, that Kat said she realized the extent of the disaster.

Caroline quickly figured out that many families, authorities and even embassies might be in similar predicaments in trying to trace those missing in Nepal. So she started a #Langtang hashtag on Twitter and a Langtang Survivors/Missing group on Facebook. She helped create a Google doc that could be shared among users and listed 440 names - 80 of which were missing at one point. The number of missing has since fallen as survivors were found and victims recovered and identified.

SEPARATE CAMPS

The first rescue helicopter landed in Kyanjin Gompa on Monday, April 27, two days after the quake, carrying away a half-dozen injured, mainly from the village.

The second helicopter came the following day, called in by the three foreign climbers. That was one that the villagers prevented from flying until it took the injured on board.

More helicopters came in the hours and days ahead, each mobbed by village people desperate to get out, said Kat Heldman.

"All the mountaineers that had gear and tents and food adopted the trekkers that didn't have food," she said.

Noted American alpinist Colin Haley, who was two weeks into a climbing trip in the area, set up a water source for the climbers camp on an open plateau.

The villagers camped in a separate area from the climbers, by a garbage dump, because it was sheltered by a large boulder. "But we would go to them to treat their wounds," Heldman said. "Eventually they started coming to us. There was a lot of hugging."

Heldman and her group were evacuated the Wednesday following the quake. "Our party was initially broken up but we refused to go without our porters."

A U.S. Special Forces team in Nepal contracted a six-seater helicopter four days after the quake. Panicky survivors grabbed their bags and ran toward helicopters as soon as they landed, said Dan, a rescue coordinator who spoke on condition that his family name not be used.

"They had mountains on two sides and avalanches on the other. So you can imagine the fear. They realized they couldn't get out unless someone came to get them."

AFTER THE FOG CLEARED

Lhakpa Jangba, 34, the baker from Kyanjin Gompa who witnessed the disputes between villagers and trekkers over the helicopter rescues, was caught up in the avalanche that hit the Heldman party. He sat weeping among a hundred or more other evacuated Nepalis sheltering beneath tarpaulins on the grounds of a Buddhist monastery in Kathmandu as he recalled his week-long ordeal.

He too heard the explosion on the mountain and saw the fog rolling down. Within seconds it was upon him. "We had no chance to run. I felt the snow hitting me on the back. It swept everything away - houses, people, horses."

Joining a group of foreign climbers, he headed toward Langtang Village. Two sherpas carried a climber with a broken back. They stopped not far from Langtang Village. "The fog cleared and I could see that the whole of Langtang was gone."

Lhakpa and a group of 80 or 90 survivors - most of them women, children and the elderly - camped out in the valley. They then returned to Kyanjin Gompa, waiting for rescue helicopters and sometimes squabbling with the foreigners.

As of Thursday, at least 300 people had been rescued from the Langtang Valley, said Gautam Rimal, assistant chief district officer. Lhakpa said he thinks many people died of their injuries in the valley because not enough helicopters arrived in time.

Villagers had "strong words" with the pilots and foreigners, but there was no violence, Lhakpa said. "Whoever survives has to unite. There is no other option."

The villagers in Kyangjin Gompa were grateful to an American nurse and climbing group who treated many of their injured, Lhakpa said, apparently referring to Brigida Martinez and the Heldman group. "Our minds were lost. We were half-dead, half-alive."

Read Full Story

People are Reading