How Pilot Priya Adhikari Is Flying Beyond Sexism To Scale New Heights
Priya Adhikari is Nepal’s lone female rescue helicopter pilot, risking her life every day to save the mountaineers. At best, she has flown to 6,200 metres above sea level to rescue a climber. The Himalayas have peaks over 8,000 metres, and it continues to give hard times to both experienced and neophyte climbers from around the globe. At least 11 people died during the Everest climbing season this year. Priya’s job entails her to rescue any such climbers whose life is in danger.
“If God made the Earth, then he kept heaven for Nepal. See? That’s the heaven there,” says Priya Adhikari as she flies her chopper to the top of the world, ABC reports.
- At 31, Priya become the first woman in Nepal to qualify as a helicopter captain
- She captains a rescue chopper, carrying out search and rescue operations in the Himalayas
- She has rescued countless injured climbers from Mount Everest
According to the pilot she has seen more than enough death and destruction for a lifetime and has no desire whatsoever to climb mountains. Talking about the hurdles in her job, Priya explained, “I face one every day, I face hundreds of thousands of them.” When asked if being a woman throws up any professional challenges she says:
“The first thing is the trust from the passengers. Whenever they see me, some of them are like, ‘oh … female pilot’.”
Flying is a male-dominated profession, Priya has always been subjected to a lot of unwanted advice from superiors or others. In a conservative country like Nepal she was always expected to stay at home, or work in a narrow range of occupations. Defying the odds was her first challenge and as soon as she first started flying to remote outposts in the Himalayas, men began asking her whether she felt safe staying in a guesthouse alone, or how she expected to bunk down in a tent full of male Sherpas if the weather turned bad.
Prior to being the daredevil that she is, Priya had worked as an airline cabin attendant.
“The moment I was inside and the helicopter took off I was like, ‘Hell yeah! Can I be a pilot?'” she says.
Oh, and she was also a contestant in the Miss Nepal beauty pageant.
What is Adhikari’s main duty?
Every now and then, Adhikari gets re-routed from tourist flights or medicine resupply runs deep in the Himalayas, to rescue an injured trekker. There was a time when she had to remove the frozen body of a dead climber too. “I went from being a medical student to a cabin crew for five years. But then I got a free joy ride in a helicopter. I asked the captain how to be a helicopter pilot and within four months I went to the Philippines for the training,” she revealed.
“It’s now been seven years and I’m flying the same helicopter that I flew in as a passenger.”
“No one has flown as a single helicopter captain as a lady in Nepal; I’m the first one who is doing it flying solo. I don’t want to do a single mistake, so I just want to get my confidence and gain more knowledge,” Adhikari said.
“When you complete a mission and save someone’s life … you get goosebumps.”
She also discussed the challenges of conducting search and rescues at high altitudes. “I remember one of the rescues we did on the west side, which was the Hidden Valley, and I was almost getting hypoxia because our oxygen was almost already done. We were going to leave the mission incomplete and go back, but then we found that person and got him back,” she said.
She now hopes to pave the way for future female captains in Nepal. “It will not be questionable again about whether they can do it or not, because I did it. I know I’m the only one in Nepal but there are so many female helicopter pilots across the world,” she added.
“Just believe in yourself and do it.”
Feature Image Credit: ABC