Global Rescue has been deeply involved in the Himalaya, having advised and evacuated hundreds of members over the years. The close of trekking season in Nepal offers an opportunity to consider the tremendous growth in the region, and what it might portend for the future.

Since 2006, the number of visitors to Everest has doubled. The Himalaya now attract over 100,000 trekkers and climbers each year. Helicopter-based services in Nepal have also increased dramatically. In an emergency, a helicopter evacuation from Everest undoubtedly can save your life. Unfortunately, some tour operators and helicopter companies seek financial gain through kick-backs from arranging non-emergency helicopter evacuations for climbers and trekkers.

In an earlier post this year, we highlighted an article by the British Mountaineering Council on corruption in the Nepalese helicopter rescue industry. The BMC article cited weak regulation and a willingness by some to defraud insurers to make quick money from a rescue.

A new article by the Alpine Rescue Service, one of the medical emergency assistance providers based in Nepal, addresses the same issue: certain guide companies and tour operators requesting helicopter evacuations in non-emergency situations for their own financial benefit. In one scenario, tour operators or trekking guides attempt to persuade inexperienced trekkers that helicopter evacuation is essential, even at the slightest hint of mountain sickness.  Fearing for their health and their lives, trekkers feel compelled to take the advice given. They are advised to contact their insurance or travel assistance companies to guarantee payment, often for outrageously inflated prices. In another scenario, operators and guides go so far as to build into the itinerary in advance a helicopter evacuation simply to save time. It is not difficult, with the right contacts, to produce documentation supporting a medically-justified but unnecessary evacuation.

If this trend continues, these inflated costs for fraudulent evacuations will result in the unfortunate consequence of considerably higher fees for medical emergency services for climbers and trekkers in the Himalaya.

What can Global Rescue members planning Himalayan travel do?

  • Know the facts about altitude sickness. In many cases, descent is the first recommended course of action.
  • Research tour operators and guide companies before you travel. Understand their perspective on helicopter evacuations.

Unnecessary evacuations in Nepal, while orchestrated by a small number of operators, have the potential to damage the climbing and trekking industry. Global Rescue has long-standing partnerships with many of the leading guide companies who have expressed frustration with the situation and who simply want to provide clients with reasonable evacuation options for bona fide medical emergencies. 

Please don’t hesitate to contact us for information.