For Israeli trekker rescued from remote cave, satphone no laughing matter
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Dispatch from Nepal

For Israeli trekker rescued from remote cave, satphone no laughing matter

Shani Sharbi recounts ordeal stuck in quake-hit Nepal village, and being whisked away in a helicopter ‘for Israelis only’

Workers at the Chabad House go over lists of names on April 30, 2015 in an effort to locate Israelis who have not made contact in the past few days. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Workers at the Chabad House go over lists of names on April 30, 2015 in an effort to locate Israelis who have not made contact in the past few days. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

KATHMANDU, Nepal — When Shani Sharabi, 24, brought a satellite phone on her big trek to Southeast Asia, her friends laughed at her for being too cautious. “What do you need a satellite phone for?” they asked.

But when the massive 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal on Saturday afternoon, Sharabi was in a remote village called Bamboo, three to four hours from the start of the Langtang trek, with the phone her only conduit to the outside world.

“Thank God I had that satellite phone,” Sharabi said Thursday.

The quake struck at 11:56 a.m., when Sharabi was gathered with her friends for lunch at one of the local restaurants.

“We didn’t know what to do and then we saw all the locals running to these big boulders that formed a cave so we ran with them,” said Sharabi. “The locals were really scared. They didn’t want to leave the cave,” she said, sitting at the Chabad House in Kathmandu on Thursday afternoon.

Aftershocks rippling through the area caused rockslides, which made leaving the cave dangerous. There were about 70 people, including about 19 locals, taking shelter in the area.

Luckily there was enough food in the local restaurants, but clean water was a problem. Some of the Israelis and two Dutch medical students built a water purification system out of materials they found in the area.

Scene at the Chabad House in Kathmandu on April 30, 2015. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Scene at the Chabad House in Kathmandu on April 30, 2015. (Photo credit: Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Other tourists would run out of the cave to prepare food, trying to time it between the aftershocks.

“We were with lots of guides and people who had a lot of experience, but no one [else] had [phone] service,” said Sharabi.

Using the satellite phone, Sharabi was able to be in immediate contact with her family, and passed along a list of all the tourists stuck in Bamboo to her mother, who tried to make contact with all of their families around the world.

“We made a list of who should be evacuated first,” Sharabi said. “There were some people with injuries like a broken hand, some people over age 70, and one American who was really hysterical.”

But the first helicopter to show up, on Tuesday, was sent by an Israeli insurance company. “The helicopter came and said, ‘Only Israelis,’” Sharabi said.

Rescue helicopters airlift Israeli backpackers to safety in Nepal, April 28, 2015 (Alon Lavi/MFA)
Rescue helicopters airlift Israeli backpackers to safety in Nepal, April 28, 2015 (Alon Lavi/MFA)

After living through such an intense experience for four days with the other people, it was a difficult decision to board the helicopter. “I think people were frustrated, especially because we said, we don’t mind staying, take others first, but at the end of the day it’s out of our hands — it’s an insurance issue,” said Sharabi.

“I think we also did more good that we came to Kathmandu,” she continued. “We went around to all the embassies and gave them the list. The South African embassy said, ‘We had no idea where they were!’ Also the Australian embassy was trying to locate two sisters who were with us. I think it was better that we came to Kathmandu and put pressure from here rather than staying there just to keep morale up.”

Sharabi said she heard that all of the tourists were rescued on Wednesday and Thursday morning. The local Nepalis left on Monday for another village with better conditions.

“When I took this satellite phone, people laughed at me, but in the end it saved 50 lives,” she said. “I was so lucky. I was in contact the whole time with my family. Lots of people didn’t have that.”

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