Dozens of members of Israel’s emergency mission to Nepal will return home Sunday, as soldiers, rescuers and relatives keep up the search for Or Asraf, who has not been heard from since the devastating earthquake struck the Himalayan country over a week ago.
A Nepalese official said late Saturday that there was little hope that anyone who had not yet been found had survived the 7.8-magnitude temblor, but friends and relatives of Or Asraf have remained optimistic as they attempt to zero in on the trekker, Israel’s last remaining citizen unaccounted for in the disaster.
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.
Forty-five members of the IDF’s 260-man mission to Nepal were to fly back Sunday, the army said in a statement. They will accompany 22 Israeli tourists who will also return aboard the army transport plane
Those who stay behind will continue to man the Israeli field hospital in Kathmandu, as well as contribute to efforts to find Asraf.
Asraf, a veteran of last year’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip, was hiking in the Lantang 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.
Dozens of trekkers have been rescued from the area, which suffered massive damage from the quake and aftershocks from large rockslides and mudslides.
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 he is still hoping to find him alive.
“I’m not leaving here until we find him,” he said, according to Ynet.
Israeli rescue teams continued their search for him Saturday aided by two helicopters, but did not find him.
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 group of rescuers is expected to redouble their efforts to search for Asraf on Sunday, the news website reported.
“Rescue teams told us about instances in which they rescued people healthy and whole, even after a month,” Or Asraf’s friends told the Walla news site.
“We’re not giving up and we’re asking everyone — from the teams on the ground to the people at home — not to lose hope and not give up on Asraf.”
Asraf’s sister Elah drew hope from a Dutch tourist who had been rescued from the same area on Thursday after five days under the rubble, she said in a message to the media.
Or Asraf was last heard from before last Saturday’s earthquake. He had a satellite phone with him, but has not used it since the quake hit.
On Friday, 70 Israeli backpackers stranded in hard-to-reach areas were evacuated to safety by helicopters.
Meanwhile, Israel’s field hospital in Nepal continued operating Saturday, the fourth consecutive day after opening its doors. Medical staff have treated 438 patients, including carrying out 33 surgeries, and delivered five babies as of Saturday, according to Channel 2.
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.
While multiple teams of rescuers from more than 20 countries have been using sniffer dogs and heat-seeking equipment to find survivors in the rubble, no one has been pulled out alive since Thursday evening when an Israeli-led team rescued a woman in her 20s and a US-Nepal team rescued a teenage boy.