Quake zone Chinooks sent in vain
Three RAF Chinook helicopters deployed to help with the rescue effort in Nepal following last month's devastating earthquake are being returned home without even reaching the Himalayan country.
The military helicopters were sent to provide aid for the stricken nation after it was hit on April 25 by its worst earthquake for more than 80 years.
More than 8,000 people were killed and thousands more were left homeless and without food, water and shelter, prompting a worldwide outpouring of aid.
But the three British Chinooks, from 27 Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, will return to the UK without even making it to Nepal after the government there turned them down.
They have instead spent the last three weeks on the ground at the Chandigarh air base, north of Delhi in India.
The Chinooks were deployed in response to a request from the Nepalese government via the UN on the day of the earthquake for international assistance, including "helicopters for transport and access to blocked roads".
They were sent out two weeks ago to help ferry people and supplies so that humanitarian aid could get to remote and isolated communities.
At the time, International Development Secretary Justine Greening said: "These highly versatile Royal Air Force helicopters and UN aircraft will mean life-saving aid supplies can be moved around Nepal and reach people in remote communities cut off by the earthquake who are in desperate need."
But the Ministry of Defence said the Nepalese government - while thanking the UK for the offer - has decided the helicopters will not take part in the relief effort.
It is thought Nepal has been overwhelmed by offers of aid and that its limited facilities are struggling to manage.
Yet only yesterday the UN called for urgent assistance to help earthquake survivors and rebuild the impoverished nation.
A UK government spokesman said: "The UK has been the biggest bilateral aid donor to Nepal in response to last month's devastating earthquake contributing over £23 million, and we will continue to support the ongoing relief effort.
"We are disappointed that our Chinooks will not be supporting the World Food Programme's request for help in distributing aid but all decisions in relation to the relief effort are ultimately for the Government of Nepal to take."
He added: "We have been in discussions with the Government of Nepal about the important role the Chinooks could play in the relief effort.
"All decisions on the relief effort are ultimately for the government of Nepal and they have advised that there is no need for the Chinooks to remain forward based in Delhi."
British Army Gurkha engineers were also sent to Nepal on board a C-17 aircraft, along with 18 tonnes of aid supplies, and helped to provide safe drinking water for those who lost their homes in Nepal's capital Kathmandu.
Nepal, one of the poorest nations in the world, has been left reeling after being hit by two major earthquakes in the last three weeks.
The magnitude-7.8 earthquake that hit on April 25 killed at least 8,150 people, triggered devastating landslides on Mount Everest and flattened entire villages, leaving hundreds of thousands homeless in the country's worst-recorded quake since 1934.
A second magnitude-7.3 quake on Tuesday left yet more dead and homeless.
British backpacker Matthew Carapiet, 23, from Bearstead in Kent, was among those killed in the first earthquake.