Belfast Telegraph

My RUC training kicked in, says hero of Nepal plane crash rescue

The aftermath of the plane crash in Nepal on Saturday
The aftermath of the plane crash in Nepal on Saturday
Co Down man Noel Hanna (in blue baseball cap) helping with the rescue effort
Noel with his wife Lynne
Brett Campbell

By Brett Campbell

A Northern Ireland man who helped rescue survivors of a plane crash near Mount Everest has told how he relied on his police officer instincts as the disaster unfolded.

Dromara mountaineer Noel Hanna was enjoying a cup of coffee with a group of other climbers on Saturday morning shortly after they landed at one of the world's most dangerous airports.

"We had just left our rucksacks down and were relaxing," he said.

"A plane was in the middle of taking off when it just veered off the runway and into a helicopter.

"Everybody jumped up at that point."

As some bystanders reached for their smartphones to photograph the devastating scene at Lukla Airport in Nepal, Noel made a frantic dash to help those injured.

"No one seemed to be taking charge," he said.

"So many people were just standing there taking pictures of bodies, but my police training kicked in by instinct and I kind of took control of organising the rescue.

"The first thing I did was put an injured policeman on a stretcher to take him away."

The pilot of the plane and two police officers who were standing near the stationary helicopter were killed in the crash.

Four others were injured at the airport, known for its short runway that makes take-off and landing extremely difficult.

Mr Hanna, who worked as a policeman here for 15 years until he retired in 2002, said his experience helped him cope with the harrowing scene. "We had to break the window of the cockpit to get in," he said

"It was obvious the pilot was dead. There was just no way he could have survived his injuries. I have seen gruesome things before, but most of the people on Saturday have never seen anything like it."

In May 2016 he and his wife Lynne became the first husband and wife to climb Everest from both sides, following a previous expedition in 2009.

Noel is currently guiding a group of international travellers, including two from Dublin, to the top of the world, where he has stood a total of eight times now.

He said they all remain determined to proceed with the trek despite being left deeply upset by the weekend tragedy they all witnessed.

"I've been on planes before that were turned away from landing because of crashes on the runway, this is the first time I saw one," he said. "Everyone is obviously very shocked by what happened but we are continuing with the trip as planned."

The reason for the crash which happened 9,333ft above sea level is still not clear. The airport, which rests on the edge of a cliff with a 700m drop, is often closed because of strong winds or heavy clouds, but the weather on Saturday was good.

In 2008, 18 people, including 12 Germans, were killed when a plane crashed while trying to land.

And two pilots died in similar circumstances two years ago.

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