The body of missing Israeli trekker Or Asraf was located in Nepal early Sunday morning, an Israeli relief team announced, over a week after he disappeared following a devastating earthquake.
Relatives, friends and rescuers had held out hope of finding Asraf alive — he was the last unaccounted-for Israeli in the country — but a statement from the ZAKA emergency organization said his body had been located on the Langtang ridge.
“We regret to report that during the morning hours the team located a body identified as Or Asraf’s. The complex rescue operation will likely take place tomorrow morning,” the group stated on its Twitter account.
The Foreign Ministry did not offer official confirmation that Asraf’s body had been found, but did not deny the report.
Speaking to Israeli media from Nepal, Patrick Asraf said 20 of his son’s friends — who are part of the IDF Egoz unit — were braving dangerous terrain, in the dark, to bring Or Asraf’s body to the closest village.
“His friends, all 20 people, are walking through a very dangerous area — now it’s dark and the danger is very great, rocks are flying and the life of every person there is at risk,” he said.
The family later issued a statement, saying it is mourning “its beloved son, the salt of the earth,” and thanked the Israeli government for the efforts to locate Or.
“Patrick and Orit Asraf, Or’s father and mother, promised to bring him home and kept their promise,” the family said.
ZAKA arrived in Nepal last week in a joint task force along with Israeli rescue organizations United Hatzalah and F.I.R.S.T. to assist in the rescue efforts and attempt to locate Asraf, the last Israeli citizen who remained out of contact since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked the Himalayan nation.
Asraf’s body was located on a trekking route in the Langtang region, according Eli Beer, president of United Hatzalah.
Beer said the team had combated rough terrain and mudslides while heavy rain and hail poured down in their efforts to locate the body.
He added that a fully equipped ZAKA team will make its way to the body’s location once weather conditions allow safe passage.
Nitay Reysh, a member of the rescue team that located the body, said two helicopters had headed back towards the region Saturday morning to redouble search efforts, carrying Or’s army friends.
“His friends identified him. They were with him for three years and know every inch of his body,” Reysh told Ynet, though he added that official identification will only take place once the body arrives in Kathmandu.
According Reysh, the rescue efforts will be difficult. “We will need to use ropes and a stretcher to carry him out to an area where a helicopter can land.”
The team had stated an hour earlier that documents linked to the Israeli hiker were located in the Langtang region, where Asraf was believed to have disappeared.
“We are incredibly saddened that our efforts ended in this way. In all the days of searching for Or, we had the hope of finding him alive and bringing him back to his family,” Beer stated.
“Despite our efforts, when we found Or he was no longer alive. We take comfort in the fact that thanks to our volunteers’ efforts, Or will be buried in Israel.”
Asraf, an army veteran injured in last year’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, was hiking in the Langtang area north of the capital Kathmandu when the quake struck.
He had opted to walk ahead of the group he was with, unaccompanied, about an hour before the earthquake.
He had a satellite phone with him, but had not used it since the quake hit.
Dozens of members of Israel’s emergency mission were set to return home Sunday.
Also on Sunday, rescuers pulled out alive from the rubble of his house northwest of Kathmandu a 101-year-old man, seven days after it collapsed. The man was rescued on Saturday and is now in a hospital, according to Arun Kumar Singh, a local police official.
Police officials in Nepal raised the death toll early Sunday to 7,040 as more bodies were found in the debris.
Home Ministry official Laxmi Dhakal said hopes of finding any more survivors were fading away.
“Unless they were caught in an air pocket, there is not much possibility,” he said.
Asraf’s father Patrick, who flew to Nepal to search for his son along with members of Asraf’s IDF comrades from the elite Egoz unit, said Saturday, “I’m not leaving here until we find him,” according to Ynet.
Patrick Asraf and two friends on Saturday searched the ruins of a guesthouse he was believed to have visited shortly before the quake but found nothing.
The quake, which was the deadliest in Nepal for more than 80 years, devastated vast swaths of the country when it erupted around midday last Saturday and reduced much of the capital Kathmandu to ruins.
Marissa Newman and AFP contributed to this report.