Army blames trip organisers for Sinai hiker deaths

Ahram Online, Thursday 20 Feb 2014

Spokesperson says army not to blame for death of four hikers in mountains near St Catherine's Monastery after rescue delays are widely criticised

Egyptian armed forces spokesman Col. Ahmed Ali (Photo: Reuters)

A military spokesperson has blamed the death of four hikers in South Sinai on the trip's organisers.

The armed forces have been widely criticised for their failure to rescue the eight hikers – four of whom died - who went missing in the mountains near St Catherine's Monastery.

In a phone interview on Sada El-Balad satellite channel, Ahmed Ali said the trip was undertaken in "dangerous weather" in a "tough geographical area" without notifying the authorities.

"The armed forces are committed to search and rescue services from all airports and harbours... It is some troops' specialty," Ali said. "We come out of this trip with a lesson learned: the state should be notified about dangerous trips."

Ali had earlier claimed it was impossible for helicopters to land where the hikers were located.

But his explanation was rejected by Massaad Abu Fagr, a Sinai-based political activist:

"Helicopters don't need parking garages to save people trapped on mountain tops. Paratroopers come off helicopters on ropes, pick up the lost souls and return them to the craft where paramedics are waiting at the door."

On Monday, friends of the lost hikers notified the authorities and the army sent border guard units, guided by Bedouins, to search for them.

They located the four survivors and three of the dead but did not evacuate them right away. The army blamed the lack of landing space, poor visibility due to nightfall and bad weather.

They moved the survivors up the valley towards Saint Catherine's Monastery, from where the helicopter collected them and flew them to hospital the next day.

The delays in rescuing the survivors and collecting the deceased led to outrage on social media.

The army's statement said the inability to move the dead bodies was due to the time it took to refuel the helicopter on Tuesday after transferring the survivors, after which the sun had already set.

The army, however, did not explain the delay between the police being notified and the helicopter being dispatched.

Ahram Online has learned from Bedouin sources that the Bedouins who led the hikers were unqualified and were responsible for the hikers getting lost.

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