10-16 June 2016 #812

Final image

One year after the the US Marine Corps rescue helicopter crash in Singati, photographs from a camera found in the wreckage shows what happened right before the crash.

Sara A Medina / USMC

On 12 May 2015 a US Marine Corps rescue helicopter disappeared soon after taking off from Singati of Dolakha for Kathmandu. On board were six American Marines, two Nepal Army soldiers and five civilians injured in the 7.3M aftershock that struck the region.

Bishal Shivakoti had assisted his wounded aunt, Sabitri, and also helped get four others — whom he had rescued from the rubble of collapsed buildings — into the helicopter just before it flew out at 3pm. Later, Bishal heard on the radio that an American helicopter was missing, but there were several rescue flights that day, and he did not think it was the one with his aunt in it.

The wreckage of the helicopter was found three days later at 3,300m. It had struck the mountain in cloud five minutes after take-off. The 13 bodies had to be identified using DNA tissue samples. Rescuers also found a camera at the crash site. It belonged to Marine photographer Sara A Medina, 23.

They downloaded the photographs Medina had shot of the rescue in Singati. The final image is that of a group of people looking shocked and anxious, and among them (standing at left, above) is Bishal. He is wearing a ‘I Love Nepal’ t-shirt, hands and feet covered in dust from digging people out of buildings that had collapsed.

One year later in Singati, when Bishal was shown this picture he recognised himself, his neighbours and relatives. When told the photograph was the last one taken by an American who died in the crash, Bishal clutched his hair with both hands, took a long breath with his head down, and said, “Oh my god.”

When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes.