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BMC highlights corruption in the Nepalese helicopter rescue industry

Member Services
June 18, 2013
Categories: In The News

As the Everest summit season comes to an end, Global Rescue is proud to have helped a great number of climbers. From minor medical advisory services to evacuations of those critically ill or injured, it has been another busy spring in the Himalaya.

However, a recent article published by the British Mountaineering Council has shed a critical light on the practices surrounding the helicopter rescue industry in Nepal. It highlights a growing trend that is making it increasingly difficult for companies like Global Rescue to provide affordable services to the climbing community.

Mountain tourism in Nepal is booming and along with it the helicopter based services. An increasing number of operators have aircraft that make high altitude rescue a realistic option that simply did not exist in the past.  

This growth in capabilities has undoubtedly led to lives being saved but it also may have caused the emergence of a culture that financially encourages some guide companies to request helicopter evacuations in non-emergency situations and has, in certain cases, resulted in outright fraud.

It is important to stress that this appears to be an issue caused by a small minority of unscrupulous operators. Global Rescue has long-standing partnerships with many of the leading guide companies and like us, they are concerned.  They simply want to provide clients with robust evacuation options while protecting themselves financially.

In the BMC article Ed Douglas provides a detailed assessment of the current situation and outlines 5 particular scams that we urge you to be aware of:

1 - Unnecessary Evacuation of someone who would recover.

Inexperienced trekkers can be persuaded by lodge owners or trekking guides that they need treatment in Kathmandu, when descent or analgesics would suffice. That treatment can often be hugely profitable: a straightforward check-up following evacuation can cost up to $800 and two or three days in hospital $5,000. At least one helicopter-charter company now has its own medical facility where patients are delivered after being evacuated – a new twist on unscrupulous cab drivers taking you to his ‘brother’s’ hotel.

2 - Overcharging for the rescue.

This can work in other ways. Lodge owners calling in a chopper for a stricken guest have been known to ask for goods to be flown in on the incoming flight, and tourists in the area may find themselves being offered a cash-in-hand ride back to Kathmandu.

3 - Charging twice for the same rescue.

An organizer in the Manaslu region arranged a helicopter evacuation for two clients – from different countries – suffering from altitude sickness. He learned later that both insurance companies had been billed for the entire $5,000 cost of the charter, totaling $10,000. The profit on the deal would have been around $7,000.

4 - Trekkers or climbers looking for a fast ride down following an expedition.

With the right contacts, it’s not difficult to get what looks like bona fide documentation saying that a rescue was medically justified and the insurance company picks up the bill. This isn’t confined to Nepalese trek leaders

5 - Deliberate scheduling of a ‘rescue’ flight in a trekker’s itinerary to save them time.

This was offered without prompting to a Dutch group planning a complex itinerary in the Kangchenjunga area. When they decided to include two friends for part of it, they received an email from their agent:

“In the beginning they have to pay helicopter cost in Nepal, when they completed there [sic] trekking and arrive in Kathmandu I will make the doctor report saying that we need to rescue the people from Ghunsa because they are ill and the aviation people will too make the certificate saying that we are rescuing these people.”

The plan, the agent says, will be ‘a good solution for them,’ and to reassure their prospective clients, the agent goes on to say: ‘I started Nepal tourism business since 1990 most of the time I did the same like this and there was no problem at all until now.

The full article can be read here

Further information on Global Rescue for climbers and trekkers can be found here

 


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