Zhemgang locals strongly vouch for helicopters

The spot where the rescue helicopter landed 29 years ago-pic courtesy-LHENDUP
The spot where the rescue helicopter landed 29 years ago-pic courtesy-LHENDUP

People in the dzongkhag shared a tragic, and yet a success story to support their stand on it

People of Bardo-Trong constituency who had gathered at the RNR hall on Sunday to listen to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president opined that an emergency ambulance helicopter will be of colossal benefit to the country.

While every crowd on the PDP president Tshering Tobgay’s campaign trail endorsed the idea of two national ambulance helicopters, the Zhemgang locals had more reason to believe in it for they have had the firsthand experience in how a helicopter can aid emergency works.

As soon as the PDP president touched on the helicopter subject, the audience broke into murmurs of approval. Everybody in the hall endorsed the idea of an ambulance helicopter and expressed appreciation and gratitude to the PDP. Some in the crowd couldn’t wait to narrate a tragic story that happened in April 1984.

Almost three decades ago, Namgay, a basic health worker of Khomshar under Bardo gewog was on his way from Geluphu hospital back to Zhemganag after his ailing wife’s check up at the hospital. His family of four was among a group of people travelling that day.

“We had to walk from the road junction at Dagapai, Nangkhor for three hours till we get home, but we were trapped by a fire in Thajong village under Shingkhar gewog. The fire sparked off from some villagers burning debris at their fields which spread into the forest that we were walking along,” a saddened Namgay said over a telephonic interview.

He said the rugged terrain and landscape cornered them and within no time they were engulfed by wild fire. “A 25-year-old girl and my two years old daughter lost their lives in the fire, despite desperate attempts to escape and rescue,” Namgay said.

Namgay and the others were rescued by farmers although they suffered severe burns and could have died at any moment. “Luckily, the Dasho Dzongda had already reported the matter to His Majesty’s Office.”  A rescue helicopter was immediately sent to the scene which picked up Namgay, his wife, a four-year-old son and the others, and was flown off for treatment at Gelephu hospital.

Nanjay, the then officiating police officer in-charge told The Bhutanese that the Dzongda had ordered him and the Dzongrab to rush to the scene immediately. “Before we reached there, we heard a helicopter hovering. It was a blessing for all of us, especially for the survivors. Had there been no helicopter, the others would have died too,” he said.

Namgay is currently serving as the district health administrative officer at Panbang dungkhag under the same dzongkhag.

PDP’s promise to procure two helicopters for medical evacuation and rescue operations drew much criticism from Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and its supporters.

DPT president Jigmi Y Thinley earlier said PDP’s plan to procure two helicopters sounds good, but in practically it requires a massive budget which the government cannot afford. He said, only double engine choppers are permissible in the country, which is very costly and reserved his doubts on what PDP was proposing to buy was single engine helicopter.

He also questioned about the logistic issue. However, PDP has been resolute from the start of the pledge, that it is a doable thing and can be achieved.

A few PDP candidates cited examples of the Eurocopter AS350 that is in operation in Nepal and costs USD 1.6mn each.

That, they said, is affordable. Looking at what the previous government paid as consultancy fees on just one lone firm such as McKinsey that comes up to USD 9.1 million, PDP opined the country could have purchased more than five helicopters, if that money had been channeled in the right direction.

The PDP president, currently on his campaign trail, referred to costs of buildings in the capital. “The cost of one helicopter for the entire nation is less than a residential building in Thimphu,” he said.

The president also said it’s a shame that a lot of fuss is created over an entire nation procuring just two helicopters, and that too when it is for a good cause. “I feel ashamed to even rebut or talk about it,” he said.

“DPT pledged the same in 2008, and failed to deliver. Now they enjoy criticizing us when we genuinely promise to do so,” he said.

Since 2006 the available figures show that helicopter rescues have been at an average of five per year though there are 10 to 15 enquiries per year. In most of these enquiries the high price of a chopper rescue from Indian Air Force choppers in Hashimara makes people reconsider. So far the rescue services due to high costs have been used for medical emergencies mainly involving tourists.

Minjur Dorji/ Zhemgang


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One comment

  1. I also support the Helicopter Idea. Those who criticize PDP on helicopter will bow later on when they see face to face with death. Just now they dont see any sense in it.

    It can be used for multipurpose.

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