Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Himalayan helicopter

Following an October 8, 2005, earthquake in northern Pakistan, Church World Service/Action by Churches Together responded quickly to the needs of thousands of affected families. Here a Pakistan Army helicopter is used to ferry relief supplies provided by CWS/ACT to the remote village of Gantar.

In delivering emergency aid, helicopters can be useful, such as getting tents to the remote village of Gantar, high in the Himalayas of northern Pakistan. In the wake of the October 2005 earthquake, when homes in this village had collapsed, and with winter quickly closing in, getting shelter material on the ground was urgent. Yet a helicopter can only carry so much weight, and delivering its load at 2200 meters altitude (that's 7200 feet in Fahrenheit) is difficult enough. Church World Service had provided hundreds of tents that the Pakistani Army was delivering with choppers, and I was asked to go along on one trip to document the delivery. This always raises ethical questions, because taking a chubby photographer along means leaving two or three tents behind. But we decided the images were worth it. Transparency is important; donors like seeing pictures of aid being delivered, especially in contexts often associated with corruption. So after getting permission from military officials, who had nothing but praise for CWS, I spoke with the pilot, explaining that I wanted to get off to photograph the tents being unloaded. He warned me that he wouldn't wait for me, and that it would take a week to walk back. Fair warning. I climbed in the back and sprawled on top of a pile of tents while the Russian-made Mi-17 zoomed up the mountain canyons. I found myself wishing I had asked him to please land with the open door facing the sun, and with some snow-covered peaks conveniently located behind the aircraft. But I zenly resigned myself to shooting whatever presented itself. We got to Gantar, and hovered while the people below cleared a space for us to land. When we hit the ground, they left the rotor blades turning as they didn't plan to spend long on the ground. I rolled out and started shooting, as men from the village came forward to quickly carry away the tents. To my pleasant surprise, we'd landed with the sun on the open door (and the faces of the men carrying the tents) and the mountains behind. I'm happy. I remembered to shoot with a slow enough shutter speed to slightly blur the spinning rotor blades, and the high f/stop gave me good depth of field for the scenery behind. A couple dozen exposures, including a few of the crowd braving the rotor wash behind me, and the pilot gave me The Look. I'm inside in a heartbeat. Bye.

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