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April 27, 2015 12:17 pm

Israelis Scramble in Nepal to Locate Missing Hikers on Himalaya Trails After Earthquake

avatar by Eliezer Sherman

plane Nepal Everest national park

A plane flies over the Himalayan mountains near the Everest national park in Nepal. Photo: Eliezer Sherman

Israeli travelers in Nepal were scrambling to find their friends and relatives after a powerful earthquake rocked the South Asian country killing thousands and leaving more than 100,000 homeless.

“People don’t know what happened with their friends,” said 22-year-old Hadera native Dror Shabtay, who has been traveling in the region for close to a year.

Shabtay says he is involved in an improvised search team in coordination with Israel’s Foreign Ministry, to find Israeli hikers on the remote trails near the tranquil lakeside town of Pokhara, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) from Kathmandu.

Shabtay tells the Algemeiner that fears remain concerning the dozens of hikers still unaccounted for after the magnitude 7.8 earthquake rocked the region as far as India and Tibet.

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“There are … 120 people that no one knows what happened to them,” says Shabtay.

April is the peak of Nepal’s spring hiking season. Thousands of travelers from dozens of countries land in Kathmandu between mid-March to May to take advantage of the warmer weather and clear skies to trek into the remote high mountain valleys and climb the world’s highest peaks, often outside the limits of cell phone communication and Internet.

“We found today something like 20 people,” he said. “Our job is…to try to figure out what happened” to the Israeli hikers in the Annapurna region, one of the major trekking areas in the country. Thousands of hikers, many of them Israeli, take to these trails in April to enjoy the country’s brief spring season before the summer monsoons.

“Israel is trying slowly to get people out,” he said. “It’s complicated because of Kathmandu. It’s a problem to send people to Kathmandu without knowing whether flights are going or not.”

“We now take all of the Israelis and explain that we can do a lot to bring them back [to Israel].”

Meanwhile, an army 747 jet loaded with supplies and 250 medical and rescue personnel took off from Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday afternoon for the Nepalese capital.

United Hatzalah’s U.S. media spokesman Michael Brown said his group’s volunteers in the country were describing “complete devastation” in Kathmandu.

“There is a huge amount of life-saving work to be done,” he told the Algemeiner.

On Facebook, the Israeli embassy launched a page called “Israel 4 Nepal” to help families locate missing relatives in the country.

The Beit Chabbad center in Kathmandu wrote that on Saturday, the synagogue “became an emergency assistance center for all of the Israelis in the country (about 1,800 right now). Warm meals, places to sleep, physical assistance, reaching out to families, clothing, accompaniment to hospitals, etc.”

Four Israelis meanwhile were rescued from the Sagarmatha National Park, which straddles Mount Everest, on Monday when an Israeli insurance company sent a rescue team. At least a dozen climbers, including Google engineer Dan Fredinburg, were killed when an avalanche triggered by the quake buried mountaineers alive.

Israel was also evacuating surrogate-born babies and their Israeli parents back to Israel, with five babies and their parents landing in Tel Aviv’s Sde Dov airport on Monday, in good health. The Israeli foreign ministry said it was working to bring back an additional 22 babies.

Tourism is Nepal’s biggest industry, and the small South Asian country, wedged between India and China, drew about 800,000 tourists last year. Mostly, travelers come to visit the country’s stunning Himalayan mountain ranges, which include 8 of the world’s highest peaks, as well as important Buddhist and Hindu sites.

Israel is one of the major sources for tourists in Nepal, and in some remote areas of the country, signs for lodges and restaurants boast advertising in Hebrew.

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