Actually, it’s remarkable there are helicopters flying rescue missions on Everest at all

Hot commodity.
Hot commodity.
Image: Azim Afif via AP Photo
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Helicopters that ply Mount Everest continued early Tuesday local time to airlift people stranded on the slopes by avalanches triggered by last weekend’s earthquake in Nepal.

On Monday, choppers lifted more than 150 climbers from Camp 1, according to a dispatch from International Mountain Guides, a US-based outfitter that had 25 climbers and 32 sherpas on the mountain.

The evacuation by air became necessary after the avalanches, which killed at least 18 climbers and injured as many as 61 others, left sections of the mountain impassible.

Though the rescues are continuing, what may be most remarkable is that they are occurring at all, given the demand for choppers to fly relief missions across Nepal, according to air charter services.

While Everest remains a focal point of rescue operations, people throughout Nepal, especially in rural areas, are cut off from food, shelter and medicine by roads blocked by landslides triggered by the 7.9 magnitude quake, which killed at least 4,300 people and injured more than 8,000.

Conditions are particularly bad in the countryside near the quake’s epicenter, where in some villages nearly three-quarters of the houses have been destroyed. Nearly all of Nepal’s army, which has but one big helicopter in its arsenal, is carrying out search and rescue.

Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs is provisioning privately owned helicopters to fill out a fleet. On Monday, Manang Air, a company that charters two Airbus helicopters from its base in Kathmandu, evacuated more than 70 people from Everest with one chopper while the other helicopter flew relief missions around Kathmandu.

“Home ministry are sending us where to go, where not to go,” says Pradeep Gautam, Manang’s deputy director of operations. “One helicopter is in the Everest area and the other in the rural area. They are focusing on the Nepali people. We are sending our evacuation out to so many places.”

Officials at Fishtail Air, a company that charters three choppers from its headquarters in Kathmandu, also are dispatching at the direction of the government. “Our one helicopter is on Everest doing a lot of rescue flights and our other is flying rescue operations elsewhere in the country,” Ramesh Shiwakoti, Fishtail’s officer in charge of sales and marketing, tells Quartz.

The government of India also is supplying helicopters for humanitarian missions and to survey damage to road networks in outlying areas. ”All the helicopters from private companies and even the Indian government rescue operators are doing rescue flights around Nepal to distant villages,” Shiwakoti tells Quartz.

The mountaineers who remain at Everest echo as much. “We know there has been a lot of damage in many of the villages,” wrote Eric Simonson, a leader of the IMG expedition, in his post. “So we will need to be self-sufficient as we make our way out of the Khumbu, assuming nothing will be available for us along the way.”

Flying helicopters around Everest is challenging even in normal times—made tricky by the thinner-air at that extreme altitude. changing weather, and other factors—and there have been crashes over the years.