|On the way to Annapurna!|
Well, there are two ways you get the helicopter, and it all depends if you're trekking with an organised group, or you are doing your own thing.
If you're with an organised group, at the beginning of the trek you'll all be asked for details of your travel insurance, and also be asked if it includes helicopter rescue. The tour company will have copies of your insurances and make a note of the emergency numbers. Now, should you get into difficulty on your trek, the tour guides will contact their company office on their mobile telephone (if they're in range and the masts are all working!) or use a Sat Phone. They will ask their office to contact the Himalayan Rescue Service (HRS) who will in turn then liaise with your Insurance company who will, hopefully, agree to pay! We've had a number of rescues this year, and the price has jumped for helicopter rescue to around US$9,000! All of our clients have recovered well.
So, what happens if you're not trekking with a group, and just doing it with a small group of friends. Well, one of the main rules of high altitude trekking is to do it with at least two other people; the theory being that if someone gets injured, one stays with the injured party and one goes for help. Solo trekking is not recommended in Nepal, so much so that the Nepalese Government are thinking of insisting all solo trekkers go with a Government approved guide or sherpa. That law hasn't come in as yet, but solo trekking, especially at altitude, could well be viewed as reckless by a travel insurer.
|Made it to the Annapurna Range!|
So, you're trekking independently, who gets the helicopter? Well, your Embassy does. On your first day in Kathmandu, go to your embassy and register your travel insurance with them. The British Embassy is very understanding on this point, and is a very well run Embassy and understand trekking, helicopter rescue etc. in detail. Then, if you find yourself in trouble, you call the British Embassy and they'll sort out the helicopter by liaising with the HRS and your insurance company.
So the helicopter has been called out to me. How long will it take? Well, it really depends on where you are, at what altitude and how busy it is generally. The are a limited number of Eurocopters, the high altitude helicopters which can ascend to over 5000m, but generally you'll be waiting for about 24 hours. You may be lucky and get one in 8 to 12 hours, but don't expect to make that call and see the chopper coming round the mountain in 20 minutes as that won't happen!
That being said, with the thousands of tourists who trek in Nepal every year, the amount of helicopter rescues are tiny in comparison. You'll probably see the odd helicopter flying around, but the chances of you needing one is very small indeed!
So, that's how it works! Make sure your travel insurance will actually allow you to trek at altitude and pay for helicopter rescues though! A lot don't, so check the small print.