Helicopter rescue fraud in Everest preys on Turkish trekker
Ece Çelik - ISTANBUL
A Turkish trekker claimed that she was the target of a scam by Nepali guides who pushed her for a costly medical evacuation after getting sick from height when she was heading to the Mount Everest Base Camp.
Merve Bakdur, a lawyer and doctoral student, has agreed with a tour company to realize her lifelong dream of trekking on Mount Everest and set out for Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, after paying the tour fees.
Staying in Kathmandu for the first night with the group she was going to walk with, Bakdur started hiking from the foothills of the Earth’s highest mountain, but when they reached the last point where those who are not professional mountaineers can climb, she was affected by the height difference.
After the group guide quickly called the helicopter ambulance for evacuation, the young trekker opened her eyes at a hospital in central Kathmandu, but she faced a nightmare when it was time to be discharged following her treatment.
Finding out that she owed $1,500 to the hospital and $6,000 to the helicopter ambulance, Bakdur called the company she made an insurance deal in Turkey with for the trip, explaining what happened to her.
However, Bakdur received the answer that the insurance did not cover these fees.
“Insurance company officials were waiting at the door of my room in the hospital. They started getting rude when I said I didn’t have such money,” she noted, adding that she was told that she could not leave the hospital without paying the fee.
“With the last money in my bank, I first paid the hospital fee so that my bill would not increase further. I only had $100 left. When I came back to the hotel where I stayed for the first night in Kathmandu, the helicopter company learned about the location of this place from the tour officials,” Bakdur noted.
Noting that the authorities turned up on the door of her room and the incidents had reached the point of physical intervention, the woman said that her phone was confiscated after receiving a threat that she will never see her family again.
Bakdur, who was able to get her phone back for a moment, reached Turkey’s diplomatic mission in New Delhi through her family and friends.
Authorities contacted honorary consuls representing the Turkish government in Kathmandu and they tried to persuade the company to find a way to save the woman. The debt was reduced to $3,000 eventually, but the nightmare was not over.
Bakdur said that as soon as the honorary consul left, the helicopter company officials were again at the door of the hotel room and the threats continued.
“In the morning, honorary consul officials took me to the airport. A Turkish Airlines representative met me there and accompanied me until I was sure that I had boarded the plane,” she added.
Arriving in Turkey on Nov. 1, after days of fear, she found out that what happened to her was actually a scam of ripping off tourists which were previously reported by international media, including the New York Times and the Independent.
“We were pushed to higher heights faster than usual. Due to this rapid change in altitude, we were likely to experience health problems. Hikers who want to go to Everest should do a good research before going,” she added.
In 2018, the Nepalese government ordered a review of the helicopter rescues to be conducted after uncovering a multimillion-dollar scam in which climbers were pressured.