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It would seem that it will be another quiet Sunday at the base camp near to Kazbek mountain. Sitting in the base tent and working in front of the computer, I suddenly hear “Maladoj, malodoj!” – this is calling Tucho, the Meteo Station manager. There’s an accident up there somewhere. First we talk about Lower Plato, later about Higher. Apparently, a French tourist fell, lost consciousness, nothing else is known. Probably I will only need to help get down to the base camp. There is a high-altitude rescue operation to Kazbek ahead of me.
I have to act, quickly make tea into a thermos, pack oxygen in a carbon cylinder into my backpack, a small first aid kit with high-altitude medicines and equipment for the glacier. I am going to the mountain with one of the Georgian guides, he is 21 years old.
The sun is scorching mercilessly, and we are quickly gaining height.
White cross, black, moraine, glacier. On the way, we jump over a few carvasses, I even got my leg twice into one of them. I have radio contact all the time with the Meteo Station and a rescuer from Poland who comes to the base.
On the way, we learn from the descending tourists that the Frenchman has a broken leg, but is conscious. I immediately notify Tucho over the radio that more help and a helicopter will be needed. I get the feedback that if the Frenchman has insurance, there will be a helicopter.
Above the Upper Plato it is getting harder and harder for me to breathe, I can clearly feel the destructive influence of the altitude.
Three hours after the departure, we reach the accident site. The altitude is about 4700 – 4800 m above sea level. There is no range or radio communication here.
The injured Frenchman looks bad, his face and mouth are swollen, his left leg hurts, especially the knee area. Two Russians and a Georgian guide with whom he reached the summit are waiting next to him. They took care of its thermal comfort and are waiting for help.
“Do you have insurance?” we ask the guy during the interview. It turns out not. At this point, all hope is running out of me. Transport without a helicopter will take us ages …
We will need a stretcher and more people to help.
Long transport awaits us. I am giving a radio to Georgian guides. Also, I ask them to go down to where there is coverage, present the situation, and call for backup.
I am starting to help the victim. For beginning, he gets oxygen. After a while of therapy, he feels much better. It is amazing how much influence this treatment has at high-altitude.
Time to examine the leg. I cut his pants – “but it’s from the rental shop!” he calls. I don’t care, I keep cutting. The knee area is very painful, but there is no open wound or blood. Probably something bad happened to the joint during the fall. His leg hurts a lot. I stiffen his knee with elastic bandages, rep rope and poles.
It is time to start organizing transport, we can’t stay here.
We try improvised stretchers from a sleeping bag and a rope, but this patent does not want to work at all. After giving oxygen and stiffening the leg, the injured person feels much better. “Can you try walking with us?” I ask – it turns out that yes. I support him on one side and the helpful Russian on the other. This way we make our way down very slowly.
Carvasses bridging is critical in this configuration.
The three of us cannot burden the fragile snow bridges at once. One person passes first, then the injured person who is supported on both sides, and finally the last rescuer. Covering the approx. 200 m of height difference and descending the Upper Plato takes us about 2 hours – a very long time. This method is also extremely tiring – both for rescuers and for the rescued.
At an altitude of 4,600 meters above sea level, two Ukrainian climbers put up a tent. When they see us limping with the victim, they run to help. We fall down very tired in their refuge.
In the meantime, the Georgian guide I sent with the radio returned. He passed on the information that help is supposed to come. It’s hard to communicate, I don’t know why, but I thought that there were four Georgians walking towards us with stretchers – that’s good.
Ukrainians share bars and boil water. Two Russians are leaving their way to the camp – they were reaching the summit from the Russian side. I am so grateful to them for their help – they were great.
We are waiting, we will not be able to safely bring the Frenchman down. The high-altitude rescue operation on Kazbek continues.
We need a stretcher and more people to help. Lying on the sleeping mats in the tent, I try to get in touch by radio and telephone – silence in the air. Why the French did not buy insurance – after all, this is how he endangers himself and us …
It will be at least three hours before the rescuers reach us – then a few more for transport. It’s going to be a very long night …
The sun begins to set behind the mountain summits. I go out of the tent to take a picture. It is beautiful and relatively quiet, only this wind makes so strange noise.
Wait, it’s not the wind, it’s … a helicopter!
Yes, I’m almost sure of it, it’s the sound of the blades of the air chopping machine coming towards us. I shout with joy – “helicopter, wiertolot !!!” I don’t remember when the last time I felt so much happiness fell on me in one moment.
Quickly put on my glasses, try to wear gloves, which is not so easy in a rush of adrenaline. I put my hands in Y and see the huge Mi-17 machine of the Georgian border guard flying above Plato in the setting sun. A beautiful and majestic view. It flies in and in a moment it turns back. The pilot is looking for a convenient place to land. It worked, the helicopter touched down, two rescuers with stretchers running out of it. Together, we lay the injured on it and pack into the Mi-17.
One of the rescuers points to me and the door – get in. Backpack – I grab my head and show him – I run quickly to the tent and back to the machine. I’m breathless on the way. The door closes behind me and we fly.
The doctor examines the victim.
I quickly give him all the information about the accident, oxygen, symptoms etc.
After a few minutes of noisy flight, the helicopter lands at Meto Station. I get out and fall into the arms of Tucho. “Spasiba za wiertolot!” I scream, unable to hide my joy. After a while, the Mi-17 takes off again and flies away with the injured towards Tbilisi.
I do not know if it is the French embassy or Marcin Medyk, the coordinator of Safe Kazbek, who stood behind the arrival of the helicopter. I am very grateful to them.
What a day – it all happened so fast. The high-altitude rescue operation on Kazbek was successfully completed.
Exhausted, I drop to the chair in the tent and set the water to boil. So different is rescue in high mountains, especially in Georgia. No matter what, always remember about insurance.