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Helicopter Rescue

The Pakistan Army will send a rescue helicopter only if you have guaranteed full payment in advance and collected the necessary authorization. This is worth getting only if you are trekking on or near the Bakoro Glacier, which is the line of supply for the Pakistani army in its continuing struggle with India over the Siachen area. There is a strong army presence along the glacier, with several helipads and at least five .radio stations, from which you can call for help. In addition, army hell-pilots know the region well and can come quickly to your aid.

To organize rescue by army helicopter on the Bakoro, get a letter before you leave home from a bank guaranteeing to pay US$4,000 to the Ministry of Tourism in Islamabad in the event that you need a helicopter rescue. (For security, Pakistani army helicopters always fly in pairs, which partly explains the expense.) On arrival in Islamabad, show this letter to the Ministry of Tourism during your briefing session. They will give you your helicopter clearance forms. Be sure that you have at least three copies, and that they are oil stamped and signed.

In Skardu, give the original copy to the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), whose office is on the left a little beyond the PTDC K2 Motel. Have the two other copies signed by the officer in charge at FCNA. This signature is very important. Distribute these two copies to two members of your expedition and be sure that everyone knows where they are stored.

If you have an accident and need a helicopter, send someone (preferably your guide, if you have one, or your expedition leader) with your stamped and signed clearance form to one of the army camps at Dassu, Paiyu (the army camp is across the Braldu River, about two hours' hike via the Baltoro Glacier from the Paiyu trekking campsite), Goro One, Goro Two or Concordia. The camp commander will authorize his radio officer to radio to Skardu, and a helicopter will come as soon as one is free and weather permits. Goro One to Skardu takes 80 minutes by helicopter.

If you are not in the Baltoro region, it is probably quicker to construct a makeshift stretcher and be carried out by porters. The only other radio stations are at police posts in the most important villages in each valley. Mountaineering expeditions usually carry their own radios and have a pre-arranged contact in Skardu, Gilgit or Chitral. Trekkers have no such luxury, so if you have an accident you must send out your helicopter clearance form with an expedition member or a porter on foot, which may take days. You then have to show the policeman that your clearance is valid. The police radio the army; otherwise you have to go to army headquarters. They may well radio the Ministry of Tourism in Islamabad (closed Friday and Saturday) for confirmation. Then a helicopter is sent.

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