Nepal earthquake: Aid workers, search and rescue dogs waiting to get in

CBC’s Margaret Evans, who was on a plane full of relief workers trying to get into Nepal, spoke to a Japanese response worker about four highly trained members of the team who could help those who may still be trapped in the rubble: search and rescue dogs travelling in the cargo hold below.

Struggling Kathmandu airport turns away flight full of relief personnel

A man sits amid the rubble of his damaged house following Saturday's earthquake in Bhaktapur, Nepal. Relief pledges are pouring in, but getting workers and supplies into the country is proving to be a challenge. (Adnan Abidi/Reuters )

Pledges of money, supplies and support are flowing following the disastrous earthquake in Nepal on Saturday, but part of the challenge has been getting the supplies and staff into the country.

If ever there were people able to help people in Nepal, they were on our Thai Airways flight out of Bangkok — doctors volunteering their services, Red Cross workers and a World Heath Organization official hoping to ward off the spread of disease that can move into disaster zones like a dark predator.

On board with us was a team of about 70 Japanese disaster relief workers aiming to help local authorities try to sift through the rubble and meet the needs of the people affected by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

We'd started out together at the Bangkok airport that morning, and there was something calming about the group, capable and reassuring in their blue and orange uniforms.

My seat partner was a man named Yoshihiro Yamakawa, a police inspector from Tokyo who had previously contributed to disaster response efforts in places like Algeria, Morocco, Germany, China, Iran and Haiti. 

Yamakawa, the chief dog handler on the trip, said he had four dogs in the hold. The two Labs and two German shepherds are trained in finding survivors in situations just like Nepal's quake, he said.

The Japanese team was treated attentively by the flight staff and the passengers. Everyone on the plane knew we were travelling with a precious cargo, people who could hit the ground running and perhaps make a difference to those still trapped beneath the rubble, living in a situation where every second counts.

But when one of the stewards announced that we would not be making a third attempt at landing in Kathmandu, there was a grim acceptance of the inevitable among the passengers.

We'd spent an entire day together flying from Bangkok to spend hours circling above the capital of Nepal, then to Calcutta when fuel ran low, then back to Nepal and back to Calcutta again. Fifteen hours on the plane all told.

But Kathmandu's tiny airport was clearly overwhelmed. At one point it was reported that 14 planes were circling the city at any given time. Even Indian army aircraft were turned back. 

But then, an even bigger blow — we were told we would be flying all the way back to Bangkok that night. The steward apologized for the inconvenience and asked us all to pray "for the strength of the people of Nepal" in the meantime.

We were not allowed off the plane at any time until we landed back in Bangkok, but the dog handlers managed to negotiate time to go down and feed and water the dogs when we were stuck in Calcutta.

Most painful of all was to watch the faces of the people trying to reach Nepal and find loved ones still alive and well, knowing that so much aid on offer was not reaching their tiny, remote country, wedged between India and China.

Back in Bangkok, we were penned in at first and then led to an airport hotel with a shortage of rooms. We'll be up and making another attempt for Kathmandu in the early morning hours.

      1 of 0

      About the Author

      Margaret Evans

      Europe correspondent

      Margaret Evans is a correspondent based in the CBC News London bureau. A veteran conflict reporter, Evans has covered civil wars and strife in Angola, Chad and Sudan, as well as the myriad battlefields of the Middle East.


      To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

      By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.