How a team from Murdoch Dubai survived the devastating Nepal earthquake

May 4, 2015

Some of the relieved Murdoch University Dubai team with friends and family after arriving back from Nepal

Some of the relieved Murdoch University Dubai team with friends and family after arriving back from Nepal

A group of staff and students from Murdoch University Dubai have spoken about their miraculous escape from the recent deadly earthquake in Nepal.

The three undergraduate students, four staff and two executives from Murdoch’s academic infrastructure provider Global Institute Middle East (GIMEL) landed in Kathmandu on Saturday, April 25, in advance of a 125km team building trek to Everest Base Camp.

Within 30 minutes of their arrival the first earthquake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, struck destroying buildings before their eyes.

“The 7.8 quake lasted for almost a minute which is a very long time for an earthquake to last,” said Chris Pilgrim, Senior Vice President, Business Development and Special Projects for GIMEL, which sponsored the trek.

“The entire airport infrastructure shook violently and we could see smoke bellowing from everywhere as neighbouring buildings, historical monuments and temples collapsed.”

The team immediately headed to their hotel in two cars but became separated when one of the drivers was told that his family was in danger.

He abandoned the group in a clustered village and it was several hours before the team were reunited at the hotel thanks to the help of a different driver.

Gary Fernandes, Head of Marketing for Murdoch University Dubai who took part in the trek, said that once the gravity of the situation was understood, the entire team worked feverishly on securing a way out, establishing reliable communication and ensuring the safety of the team.

“A strong line of communication was set up between us and our support group at GIMEL in Dubai, who were constantly keeping us posted of expected aftershocks. We experienced 53 altogether. They also ensured that individual families were kept informed of the team’s whereabouts, safety and progress,” he said.

“We spent 48 gruelling hours working out exit strategies together with the team in Dubai.

“These strategies included negotiating with the Indian Air Force for a safe passage to India, the next option was to secure a direct flight to the UAE at the earliest opportunity and the final option was to travel by road to the Indian border. The second strategy turned out to be the most viable one for the team even though there had been no clear indication from authorities of the when the airport might be reopened.”

Mr Fernandes said on day two, the team made a unanimous decision to trek 20 kilometers on foot to the airport through wide open paths adjacent to a river stream since roads had been badly damaged and because strong aftershocks were still being felt.

Mr Pilgrim added: “The team in fact survived another quake measuring 6.7 during the 20 kilometre trek and at this point we were just at the presidential palace located midway to the airport. It was touching to see how communities came together, helping each other out. Everyone had moved outside their homes to open spaces. In fact, on day one we slept in the open courtyard just outside the hotel reception and as we reached the airport on day two we camped just outside a well-fortified concrete Air Traffic Control Centre.

“Although food and water had soon become a problem in Nepal, we survived on our own rations originally packed for the trek. We also survived on local staples like Wai Wai Noodles and a mildly spiced lentil soup served with whole-wheat bread called Daal-Roti, which provided the required nourishment.”

Team work both on the ground in Nepal and back in Dubai, and additionally the strong leadership decisions taken by Rakesh Wahi, Vice Chairman and Co-founder of GIMEL and Mr Pilgrim ensured the entire team got back to the UAE safely.

Mr Wahi said: “The team showed character, resolve and resilience of the highest order. I am so proud of each and every one of them. Thanks to all the families and friends of the GIMEL team for their prayers, faith and calm throughout this ordeal. Our sincere gratitude to all members of the GIMEL team in Dubai for providing the ground support and arrangements made to bring us back home safely.”

Although the team never reached base camp they did in fact achieve their team building objective as they evolved into a strong cohesive unit together with the team in Dubai who coordinated the evacuation.

“We left as individuals and came back as a family,” Mr Wahi added.

Upon their return, Mr Wahi announced that GIMEL will be sending relief supplies for Nepal’s earthquake victims.

“We would like everyone to join this effort and contribute essential things that we have in abundance and do not need,” he said.

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