RAF Chinooks to return from Nepal having not been used

RAF Chinook helicopter flying to Nepal Image copyright Steve Lympany/DFID
Image caption The CH47 Chinook helicopters left the UK earlier this month

Three RAF Chinook helicopters sent to Nepal to help the aid effort in the country are to return to the UK having not been used, the government has said.

The CH47 Chinooks left the UK two weeks ago to help transport "life-saving aid supplies" and reach stranded victims "in desperate need" of help.

But the helicopters have been grounded in Delhi, in India, for the past week.

The Ministry of Defence said it was "disappointed", saying the decision had been made by the Nepalese government.

An MoD spokesman said the Nepalese government, while thanking the UK for the offer, had said the helicopters will not take part in the relief effort.

"We are disappointed that our Chinooks will not be supporting the World Food Programme's request for help in distributing aid but all decisions in relation to the relief effort are ultimately for the Government of Nepal to take," the spokesman said.


Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A young victim injured in the earthquake is carried from a US military helicopter

by Jonathan Beale, BBC defence correspondent

This seems to be a very strange decision. There is clearly a need for more helicopters in Nepal to deliver relief supplies.

The "disappointment" expressed by the British government hides stronger feelings and frustration.

They will be shared by the United Nations who need these helicopters now.

We don't yet know the reason why the Nepalese Government rejected the offer of help. There have been reports of concerns about the effect these twin rotor helicopters would have on the structurally weakened buildings.

But the RAF crews are highly experienced in delivering aid in disaster zones.

Others have suggested that China or India might be opposed to the use of British military helicopters flying near their airspace.

But why then are US military helicopters are already operating in Nepal? RAF crews who have been on the ground in Delhi waiting to help for more than a week are not the only ones who will feel perplexed.

The aircraft were flown to Nepal after the country was hit by the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake of 25 April, killing more than 8,000 people.

On Tuesday, a second 7.3-magnitude quake killed at least 110 people.

Last week, the UK government said 92 additional Gurkhas had been deployed to Nepal to provide aid.

The Gurkhas, from the 36 Engineer Regiment based in Kent, have boosted the total number of UK military personnel in the region to almost 300.

British Army Gurkha engineers were also sent to Nepal on board a C-17 aircraft, along with 18 tonnes of aid supplies, and helped to provide safe drinking water for those who lost their homes in Nepal's capital Kathmandu.

Aid from the UK's Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has reached more than 60 villages, towns and camps in the weeks following the earthquake, which has also left more than 14,500 injured.

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