Rescuers and the father of the last Israeli unaccounted for in Nepal stepped up their search for Or Asraf Thursday morning, five days after the trekker and IDF veteran went missing in the wake of a devastating earthquake.
Though there have been reports by Israelis in Nepal who saw Asraf approximately an hour after the initial 7.8-magnitude quake in the Langtang region, the Operation Protective Edge veteran has not been heard from since.
Asraf’s father Patrick and members of his son’s unit — the Golani Brigade’s elite Egoz unit — traveled to Nepal Wednesday night to assist in the search, as Nepali officials raised the death toll from the earthquake to nearly 5,500.
Hilik Magnus, the head of Magnus International Search and Rescue, said that one of his team leaders in Nepal, Amit Rubin, is heading a rescue operation to find Asraf.
The team believes, based on Asraf’s itinerary and the time of the earthquake, that he is within a four-kilometer range of Bamboo, a village in the Langtang Valley at approximately 2,000 meters elevation.
Dozens of Israeli backpackers have already been rescued from the remote mountainous region just north of Kathmandu, and several more are expected to be spirited out Thursday.
The problem with the area, Magnus said, is that the earthquake triggered massive landslides, obliterating the trail and making it exceptionally difficult to navigate across the steep slopes.
Asraf carried an SOS satellite device capable of emitting a traceable signal but has not turned it on, Magnus said.
His friends from the Egoz army unit in which he served have landed in Nepal and are assisting the search and rescue team. Rescue services in the area, however, do not see this step as necessarily helpful.
Members of the IDF delegation to Nepal and Magnus’ organization are specially trained in search and rescue techniques, something Asraf’s former unit — elite as it may be — is not as familiar with.
Magnus called their participation “a double-edged sword” because while their devotion to their friend is heartwarming, at times the additional personnel are also a burden for the rescue professional.
On Wednesday, Patrick Asraf expressed optimism his son would be found safe.
“As the hours go by we are receiving more and more reports from people that were there and saw him.”
“We are in constant contact with the relevant bodies and all signs show that everything is OK,” he added. “We are optimistic.”
According to Israel Radio, rescue teams will attempt to extract approximately 30 Israelis Thursday, after rescuing some 20 Israelis Wednesday, including 10 from the area where Asraf was last seen.
The effort comes as Israel’s other operations in Nepal, including a large field hospital in Kathmandu and search and rescue operations, have gotten underway in the quake-ravaged country.
A Hercules transport plane will land in Mumbai Thursday evening, where it will load up with supplies for Kathmandu, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After delivering that equipment, the plane will return to India with members of the IDF’s Homefront Command in Nepal. If there is enough room, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said, some of the approximately 60 Israeli citizens still in Kathmandu will also travel on that flight.
Israel’s field hospital began operating Wednesday morning, with staff treating nearly 100 patients and delivering their first baby — a boy — on the first day, according to an IDF spokesperson.
Among the patients were some 30 Israeli nationals, according to Walla. Most were suffering from dehydration and were soon released to their hotels.
Over 250 doctors and rescue personnel were part of an IDF delegation that landed Tuesday in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, in the wake of Saturday’s magnitude-7.8 earthquake that devastated large swaths of the mountainous country, killing over 5,000 and leaving some 11,000 wounded and tens of thousands seeking shelter and food.
The Israeli group — the second largest in manpower of any international aid team after India — set up the field hospital with 60 beds, including an obstetrics department, and was operating in coordination with the local army hospital.
Thus far, the Associated Press reported, 5,489 people have died and another almost 11,000 were injured in the massive earthquake, though police in Nepal said Thursday morning they fear the number of dead has topped 5,500.
Another 61 were killed in neighboring India and Bangladesh, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported 25 dead in Tibet.
Rescue efforts persisted Thursday, and crowds cheered as a teenage boy was pulled, dazed and dusty, Thursday morning from the wreckage of a seven-story Kathmandu building that collapsed around him five days ago when an enormous earthquake shook Nepal.
The boy, who has not been identified, was carried out in a stretcher. His face was covered in dust, and medics had put an IV drop into his arm. A blue brace had been placed around his neck. He appeared stunned, and his eyes blinked in the sunlight.
US President Barack Obama has spoken to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala of Nepal to express sympathy over the thousands of deaths and vast destruction.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the two leaders discussed US military and civilian efforts already underway to help Nepal and international aid groups in their emergency rescue and response, including provision of rescue and logistics support.
Times of Israel staff and the Associated Press contributed to this report.