A plane carrying 90 Israeli rescue workers and supplies lifted off from Ben Gurion Airport Monday morning for earthquake-battered Nepal.
The IDF plane is the first of two slated to leave on Monday. An IDF 747 jumbo jet packed with an IDF field hospital and some 250 rescue and medical staff has seen its take-off delayed due to problems getting landing approval in Kathmandu, where officials are still working to determine if large jets can land safely in the Nepalese capital’s damaged international airport. The second plane is slate to take off at 10 p.m. Israel time.
Fears are mounting over a bottleneck as countries rush to send aid to a country whose infrastructure was badly damaged and where aftershocks were still being felt late Sunday.
At least 3,300 are said killed and over 6,500 wounded in the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that hit the Himalayan nation on Saturday, with the number expected to rise in the coming days. Tens of thousands have been sleeping in streets, and the fate of entire mountainside villages remains unknown as access to remote areas was disrupted by damage to roads.
The IDF field hospital team will focus on search and rescue and the creation of a full field hospital, which will be operational within 12 hours of landing.
When the flight arrives, half the Israeli team will set up the field hospital — including operating rooms, X-ray equipment and pediatric care — to provide emergency medical services to the wounded. The other half will conduct search-and-rescue missions in collapsed buildings.
“Because we will be arriving in a relatively short time, we are hoping to find survivors underneath the rubble, so for this stage the main mission is to save lives,” said Col. Yoram Laredo, who is the commander of the Search and Rescue Corps and the head of the IDF delegation to Nepal.
The search-and-rescue team has 60 members and can operate in three separate locations simultaneously. The IDF delegation rented two Boeing 747s to carry personnel and 95 tons of supplies.
“You are being sent on an important mission,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Laredo Sunday. “This is the real face of Israel — a state that comes to assist those far away at moments like these. Good luck, we are counting on you.”
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner expects Israel’s field hospital to be the first in operation in Nepal. In the past, the IDF has set up field hospitals following natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines and Japan.
The field hospital will include “pediatric, surgical, internal medicine, neonatal, and radiology departments as well as a maternity ward and an emergency and operating room,” the IDF said in a statement.
It added that the hospital would be able to treat about 200 patients a day.
“This is a large, high-end delegation with a considerable staff, including the 40 doctors and nurses of the field hospital,” Laredo said in the statement.
Also Monday, three premature babies born through surrogacy to Israeli couples in Nepal arrived in Israel along with their parents and an Israeli man, 24, who suffered a leg injury during the earthquake. The arrivals, who were the first Israeli civilians to be extracted from Nepal, landed at the Nevatim Air Force Base in the Negev and were taken to the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba for check ups. All were reported to be in a good condition.
A Magen David Adom plane is expected to ferry more Israelis home on Monday, including eight more surrogate babies and their parents. In addition, efforts are underway to bring back some Nepalese surrogate mothers who are in the later stages of their pregnancies.
Saturday’s earthquake spread horror from Kathmandu to small villages and to the slopes of Mount Everest, triggering an avalanche that buried part of the base camp packed with foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts. At least 18 people died there and 61 were injured.
Deputy Inspector General of Police Komal Singh Bam said Monday that the death toll had risen to 3,218 people but he gave no further details. Another 61 people were killed in neighboring India. China reported that 20 people had died in Tibet.
AP contributed to this report.