Three US tourists were caught in a snowstorm near Naga Falls and Tosar Lake in North Sikkim on April 13. The trio of Richard Lamb, 71, his wife Linda, 61, and Mike Orszac, 41, started their journey from Mangan, 70km from Gangtok and decided to trek the Toshar Lake at a height of 13000 ft.
But on the second day of the trek, Richard slipped on the route and fell to the ground at Naremchu Partam (11,000ft) injuring his knee. Linda also fell ill because of dehydration and the team had to abort the trek. But they were neither able to walk back to the base camp at Mangan.
Then began the 3 days and an 11,000 feet helicopter rescue operation to bring the three American tourists safely. The team called up the organisers at the Mangan Tourism Development Committee asking them to arrange a chopper to airlift them.
The corporation got in touch with the Travel Agents’ Association of Sikkim (TAAS) and then the tourism secretary S.B.S. Bhaduaria was contacted. Bhaduria contacted officials of the Tourism Development Corporation, which runs the Pawan Hans helicopters and they got in touch with the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) that has a helipad at Pegong, near Chungthang.
On April 15, a Bell-206 chopper flew from Burtuk towards Naremchu Partam at an altitude 11,000 ft. The flying crew located the trio but could not spot a place to land. The chopper had to return to Gangtok.
On April 17, the crew started another rescue operation with a person familiar with the terrain. Finally, the three Americans and their guide were airlifted in two sorties and the team was brought to Pegong.
Command pilot R.S. Brar said that it was the first rescue operation for the Pawan Hans at such a high altitude.
“There are challenges involved in flying in such altitudes as rotor blades’ efficiency depends on air density. The higher we go, air density thins out reducing the efficiency of the rotor blades. The controls also become sluggish,”said Brar.
(With inputs from The Telegraph)