The travel insurance situation is Nepal is starting to get even murkier. Yesterday I shared a story about companies threatening to not provide coverage in Nepal following the recent “fake rescue” scam that has bilked them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, we get word that one of the more popular insurance providers is refusing to pay for rescue operations conducted on Mt. Everest in 2017.
According to The Himalayan Times, the New Hampshire-based Global Rescue has refused to pay the costs of several rescues from Everest that took place in the spring of 2017. One of those rescues was for Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, who had to be evacuated from high on the mountain on May 20 of this year. The Pakistani climber had suffered a severe case of altitude sickness and needed to be brought down immediately in what was a potential life-threatening situation.
A rescue operation was conducted quickly by the staff of Seven Summit Treks, the team Bhatti was climbing with at the time. A helicopter was brought in to facilitate his evacuation, and according to Mingma Sherpa, the team spent $43,000 conducting the operation. In a situation that was life or death, the Seven Summit Treks squad just reacted in an effort to save their client’s life. But now, in the aftermath, Global Rescue is refusing to pay the bills.
A spokesperson for GR says that it did not authorize the evacuation and therefore doesn’t have to pay the costs. The company says that technically it is not an insurance company and that it won’t pay for rescues that have not been arranged by them directly. Representatives of the company are quick to point out that they did pay for Bhatti’s transportation back home to Pakistan, saying they only learned about the incident when his family contacted them on Facebook. That occurred after the Pakistani government agreed to cover the costs.
The incident involving Bhatti isn’t the only case however, as Global Rescue is also declining payment for the evacuation of American climber Larry Mah too. He was also attempting Everest with Seven Summit Treks when he ran into problems at Camp II and was flown to Lukla for treatment. GR says that an unauthorized helicopter operator was used in the air lift and since they don’t work with that operator they won’t pay the bill.
Mingma says that Australian climber Damian Joseph Bourke and Polish mountaineers Krzysztof Zbigniew Sabisz and Arkadiusz Adam Babij were also evacuated from higher camps on the mountain and have not received payment either. In other words, this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident and Global Rescue is seriously starting to crack down on evacuations that are not “authorized.”
The problem with this approach to evacuation insurance is that there is often not enough time to get a coordinated rescue operation together to save someones life from a remote location. Hours and minutes can make all of the difference, and the Nepali search and rescue teams are simply reacting to what is happening in the moment. Waiting for authorization could cost someone their life, as just getting in contact with a GR rep could take awhile.
One can’t help but wonder if this is a bit of backlash over the fake rescue scam we’ve discussed several times on the blog recently. If Global Rescue believes that it has been bilked out of a lot of money in Nepal, it may be taking a much more cautious approach, potentially at the risk of its clients. It should be noted that the scam has generally been aimed at trekkers, and not mountaineers, who often face much more life-threatening situations.
It should also be noted that Pakistan is threatening to bar Seven Summits from leading expeditions within its borders due to the Bhatti incident. If that happens they’ll lose access to Broad Peak, K2, and Nanga Parbat, which have been big business for them in recent years.
Who knew we’d be talking so much about insurance on The Adventure Blog.