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RAF Chinook on Nepal mercy mission

Published 01/05/2015

A young girl waits for relief aid outside her collapsed home in the destroyed village of Balua in Nepal (AP)
A young girl waits for relief aid outside her collapsed home in the destroyed village of Balua in Nepal (AP)

The first of three military helicopters has left the UK to help the rescue effort in Nepal, as families of missing Britons continue their "hellish" wait for news.

An RAF Chinook left the Brize Norton airbase around midday on board an Antonov commercial freight aircraft.

Two more Chinooks will be sent out over the weekend to the stricken Himalayan country, where they will help ferry people and supplies so that humanitarian aid can be taken to those in desperate need in remote and isolated communities.

The three Chinooks, from 27 Squadron based at RAF Odiham in Hampshire, are the latest in the aid effort dispatched from the UK.

British Army Gurkha engineers arrived in the Himalayan country yesterday on board a C-17 aircraft, along with 18 tonnes of aid supplies that included shelter kits and solar lanterns.

The Gurkhas spent last night constructing a water purification system to provide safe drinking water for people living in a camp in Kathmandu who lost their homes in last week's earthquake.

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.

"Conditions in Nepal are dire, but the UK is determined to do everything it can to help support Nepal and its people."

More than 6,000 people have been killed in the worst earthquake to hit the country in 80 years, and at least 14,000 have been injured.

One Briton - dual national Hemchandra Rai, 42, a married father of three who lived in Hong Kong - has been confirmed dead, while many more families are continuing their agonising wait to hear if their loved ones survived the natural disaster, which triggered avalanches that swept away Everest Base Camp.

Reports that a second Briton was among those killed at Base Camp are still being investigated, and many more are still believed to be unaccounted for.

According to a Red Cross missing persons list posted online, 28 people from Britain and Ireland remain unaccounted for following last Saturday's 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

But the figure is only an estimate as the website is updated by users and not all families are known to have filled in details, or updated them.

The British Government has announced a package of measures to help with the rescue effort, including £15 million in aid, and so far the British public has donated £31 million to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC).

Food, water, relief supplies and shelter kits are beginning to reach isolated villages affected by last Saturday's earthquake, the DEC said.

More than 100 Britons, the youngest aged just four months and the eldest in their 60s, returned home to the UK to emotional scenes in the early hours of yesterday morning.

But the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is facing mounting criticism that it has not done enough to help families whose loved ones are missing and stranded in remote parts of Nepal.

Matt Carapiet, 23, an architecture student from Bearsted, Kent, was trekking in the Langtang valley when the earthquake hit and has not been heard from since.

His parents, Jill and Greg Carapiet, are too distraught to speak, but family friend Rob Bailey said they felt "frustrated" and let down at the FCO not doing more to help.

He said: "There is just an awful lot more the family wants to know and it is very frustrating.

"It is a difficult situation for the family. They are going through absolute hell at the moment - there is no other way to describe it.

"What we want is the FCO to be there to make things easier and take some of the pressure off them. We want as much support as we can get, but we don't seem to have had much, if any.

"We know that communications are really difficult there and it is very hard, but the FCO haven't been communicating to the family at all.

"The conditions out there sound absolutely awful. But we don't know what is being done to get boots on the ground to see if any of those people are there and completely cut off and not in a position to let anyone know where they are."

Mr Carapiet's parents registered details of him on the Nepal hotline, but on three separate occasions they called back to discover his details were wrong.

Initially no next of kin details were registered, the next time a stranger's number was put on the file, and the third time the authorities had one digit wrong in the number.

"We want to know if people are going out there looking for Matt and we are not getting that news at all," Mr Bailey said.

He said the family have been left frustrated and reliant on strangers and social media to piece together their son's last known movements.

He said: "The problem with social media is it is hearsay - we hear something hopeful but we are not sure how hopeful it actually can be. Everything is so uncertain.

"We would hope that anything coming from the FCO would be solid information the family can rely on, and we are not getting any of that."

An FCO spokesman said: "Our teams are working round the clock to assist British nationals and have given practical assistance to more than 350 so far.

"We've deployed two emergency response FCO teams to locate and assist British nationals in remote areas. They've assisted eight British nationals who were rescued from Dhunche and who are now in Kathmandu being supported by embassy staff.

"We continue to work closely with the Nepalese search and rescue teams, providing them with all details we have on British nationals and their locations. We are in regular contact with the family in the UK."

A British doctor who travelled to Nepal to assist the aid mission has spoken of the harrowing scenes witnessed by rescuers and said any hope for trapped survivors is fading.

Richard Lyon, a consultant in emergency medicine with NHS Lothian, is part of a specialist unit of search and rescue experts, firefighters, medics and engineers flown out by the UK International Search & Rescue Team (ISAR).

He said: "The humanitarian impact here is enormous, with many deceased in the streets when we arrived, limited power supply and water in the city running very low. Aid is arriving steadily, with the limitation of Kathmandu airport having a very small apron space.

"There have been several rescues early in the week but hope for trapped survivors is now fading.

"We are focusing on medical support, especially to some remote villages, some of which can only be reached by air.

"The local response we get when arriving in small, unaided villages can be overwhelming. Watching locals digging out loved ones with bare hands really hits home. I treated some of the avalanched Everest victims - many of whom had amazing survival tales."

The doctor added: "The imminent arrival of more Gurkhas and Chinook helicopters will be invaluable.

"It can be hard work, especially with the heat and humidity, and I'm rapidly getting used to functioning on three hours' sleep."

An FCO spokesman added: "Our teams are working round the clock to assist British nationals in Nepal. They have given practical assistance to more than 350 so far and arranged flights out of Nepal for around 140.

"Helicopter airlifts continue to assist Brits in remote areas. We have emergency response teams working to locate British nationals and they have assisted several groups in the mountains over the past 48 hours. We continue to work closely with the Nepalese search and rescue teams.

"An RAF C-17 is due to land in Kathmandu this evening and will take British nationals out of Nepal and to New Delhi."

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