Beauty and danger walk hand in hand in the mountains of Nepal, where a satellite phone is the only guaranteed way of calling for help or reassuring loved ones that you are safe.
Anne Edmondson of Dubai-based charity Gulf for Good (G4G) knows from first-hand experience just how important it is to carry a satphone. She was leading a party of trekkers in the Himalayas when a huge earthquake struck on 25 April 2015.
The group was on the eighth day of a G4G-organised fundraising expedition to Everest base camp, and as always Anne was carrying a Thuraya satphone. “Thuraya have been extremely generous in providing us with a SatSleeve for our expeditions,” she said. “It is essential kit, and on this occasion it became our lifeline to the outside world.”
After spending an acclimatization day in Pheriche, the small village in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal at 4,220m, the group was climbing north to the next scheduled stop at Labouche at 4,930m. As they passed through a steep-sided valley, Anne remembers feeling a strange swaying sensation. At first she thought she was ill, but then noticed that everyone had felt it and was rooted to the spot.
“It seemed like the earth was slowly moving around us, and then rocks began to fall and there was a loud crunching noise,” Anne said. “I don’t know how long the earthquake lasted, perhaps only a couple of minutes, but it was absolutely terrifying.”
When the shaking had stopped, and having checked no one was hurt, Anne’s first thought was to use her Thuraya satphone to call G4G in Dubai. “It was a Saturday and the office was closed, so I called a staff member at her home, just to say ‘we’re safe’. It was so soon after the quake that she hadn’t heard anything about it, but thanks to Thuraya I was able to reassure everyone we were ok.”
The SatSleeve turns your smartphone into a satphone, so Anne was able to make the call from her usual phone, quickly finding the right number in her contacts database.
At Labouche it was obvious that a major disaster had hit Nepal. A lot of buildings had fallen and people were injured. The G4G trekkers used the satphone to call their families and Anne posted a message on Facebook to say again that all were safe.
After a night’s rest, the only choice was to head back to Lukla Airfield to catch a flight to Kathmandu. The return took four days, and Anne relied on the SatSleeve to report back on every step of the journey. “It was absolutely invaluable, because all other communications were down and it was a relief to be able to let our loved ones know that we were still ok, especially as after-shocks were happening.”
Anne shared the phone with people they met on the way, who were also desperate to get news back to their families. As the full extent of the tragedy unfolded, Thuraya played its part in helping people cope.
G4G remains fully committed to its charity work in Nepal. In fact, Anne will be leading an expedition to Annapurna base camp in April 2017, and the funds raised will be donated to the charity Mission Himalaya Children’s Eco Farm Home in Nepal.
“We will be taking a Thuraya satphone without a doubt,” said Anne. “Now, more than ever, we know how vital it is to be able to make and receive phone calls anywhere and anytime, because you never know what challenges the mountains will throw at you.”
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Gulf For Good: www.gulf4good.org