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Nepal’s first female helicopter captain describes life on top of the world

With peaks over 8,000 metres, the Himalayas continue to beckon an array of experienced and novice climbers from around the globe.

These mountains also call to some of the world’s most capable and courageous helicopter pilots — Priya Adhikari is among them.

“I went from being a medical student to changing into being a cabin crew for five years. But then I got a free joy ride in a helicopter,” Ms Adhikari said.

The feeling of exhilaration she had on take-off encouraged Ms Adhikari to pursue a new career in the aviation industry.

“I asked the captain how to be a helicopter pilot and within four months I went to the Philippines for the training,” she said.

“It’s now been seven years and I’m flying the same helicopter that I flew in as a passenger.”

Rescue missions in the Himalayas

At 31, Ms Adhikari has become the first woman in Nepal to qualify as a helicopter captain.

She spends her days in a rescue chopper, carrying out search and rescue operations in the Himalayas.

Woman wearing a thick jacket and aviators stands on the side of a helicopter.

She said she had rescued countless injured climbers from Mount Everest.

“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,” she said.

“I don’t want to do a single mistake, so I just want to get my confidence and gain more knowledge.”

Safeskies, which is an Australian independent body encouraging discussion on aviation safety, recently invited Ms Adhikari to share her story at its biennial conference in Canberra.

Safeskies chairman Peter Raven said the type of flying Ms Adhikari did in Nepal was “very specialised”.

“If somebody in our audience just picks up one little thing perhaps that she mentions, then that’s a good thing for aviation safety,” he said.

Priya attending the Safeskies Conference

Some of Ms Adhikari’s most memorable rescue operations came in the days following the deadly Nepal earthquake in 2015, which she reflected on at the conference.

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,” she said.

“We were going to leave the mission incomplete and go back, but then we found that person and got him back.

“When you complete a mission and save someone’s life … you get goosebumps.”

Female helicopter pilot sitting in the cockpit smiling.

Paving the way for other female pilots

Since becoming a captain, Ms Adhikari said she had received plenty of support from her colleagues and friends.

But climbing to such heights in the aviation industry hasn’t always been easy.

“Starting out [there was comments] like, ‘she won’t be able to do it because she is lady’,” she said.

“But now I’ve proved myself — I’ve not only become a captain, but I’ve become a high-altitude captain as well.”

She said she hoped she had paved 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’m know I’m the only one in Nepal but there are so many female helicopter pilots across the world.

“Just believe in yourself and do it.”

Source: ABC AU

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