KATHMANDU, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- Efforts have started to airlift over 2,500 people, including tourists, their porters and their guides, from Lukla in north-eastern Nepal where they have been stranded for five days with all commercial flights grounded due to inclement weather.
According to Saturday's Republica report, bout 100 people were airlifted Friday to the capital Kathmandu by helicopters of commercial airliners from a landing strip located one-and-a-hour trek downhill of Lukla.
Meanwhile, a Nepal Army (NA) helicopter will start rescuing the stranded from Lukla airport itself from Saturday.
The build-up of stranded people started in Lukla in late- October when only limited flights were operated, also due to bad weather. But from October 31, no flight was conducted at all, thus swelling up the number of visitors in the village, which is a famous gateway to Mt. Everest (also called Mt. Qomolangma).
The Himalayan Rescue Association said that by Friday, there were above 2,000 foreigners and 500 Nepalis stranded there.
NA Spokesperson Ramindra Chhetri said, "we had received letter from the tourism ministry and the use of Army chopper has been approved for the rescue."
He also said that if the weather condition is favorable, Mi-17 will start the rescue operation from Saturday morning. "We had sent a bell helicopter for rescue but it could not land at Lukla airport because of poor visibility," he added.
Private operators, on the other hand, operated around 20 flights to Surke, a landing strip located one-and-a-half-hour walk downhill of Lukla airport, from where the tourists were flown to Kathmandu. Surke was chosen for landing after choppers could not land at Lukla airport.
Only NA owns 24-seater chopper in the country. The bell choppers owned by private airliners are all five-seaters.
Lukla Airport is a small airport in the town of Lukla in Khumbu of the Solukhumbu District in the Sagarmatha Zone of north-eastern Nepal. Situated at 2,860 meters, it is a popular place for visitors to the Himalayas near Mt. Everest to arrive. In January 2008, the airport was renamed in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, the first persons to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The surrounding terrain, thin air, highly changeable weather and the airport's short, sloping runway make it one of the most challenging landings in the world.