U.S. Embassy Kathmandu, Nepal --
On May 12, 2022, the U.S. Embassy Kathmandu, Nepal, held a memorial event honoring those lost seven years ago during Operation Sahayogi Haat, the U.S. response to the April 25, 2015, 7.8-magnitude earthquake which struck Nepal.
Attending the event were the U.S. Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry, the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Manuel Micaller Jr., Nepalese Chief of Army Staff Gen. Prabhu Ram Sharma, Nepalese Assistant Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Saroj Pratap Rana, and the Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade U.S. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Kyle B. Ellison.
“We are here this morning in honor of those who perished in the UH-1 helicopter crash seven years ago,” said Berry. “Thirteen individuals, some who died while helping their fellow human beings during a time great need, and some who died while trying to escape the devastation brought on by the Gorkha earthquake. These brave men and women, their names etched in stone beside me, stand as a powerful reminder that there have always been, and will always be those willing to risk their lives for strangers.”
The devastating natural disaster affected the lives of millions of people throughout Nepal, as the quake caused numerous landslides, building collapses, and other infrastructure damage. Thousands were killed and 2.8 million were in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.
Nations from around the region responded, 18 in total, including the United States with its forward-deployed Marines in Okinawa, part of the Marine Corps’ stand-in force which is ready to respond in the region. The 3D MEB formed the nucleus of Joint Task Force 505 in support of the Government of Nepal under the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance direction.
The III Marine Expeditionary Force and 3D MEB had previously conducted subject matter exchanges and disaster table-top exercises with the Nepalese military, preparing them both to respond quicker and more efficiently, which contributed to the speed and success of the MEB’s deployment.
The massive multinational relief operation lasted for over a month and was termed “Sahayogi Haat,” which means “helping hand”.
Nepal’s extreme weather conditions and geography complicated the response to the catastrophe. The U.S. and Nepalese military worked together using U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey and UH1Y Huey vertical lift capability to reach outlying communities in remote and rugged regions.
Then, on May 12, another quake measuring 7.2 in magnitude struck. A Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom helicopter, call sign Vengeance 01, was flying a mission in the extremely mountainous Charikot region to rescue Nepalese civilians who had been injured in the most recent quake, and tragically crashed. There were five Nepali civilians, two Nepali soldiers, and six US Marines onboard the aircraft when it went down. Three days later on May 15, the wreckage of the helicopter was discovered in high terrain and all eight service members and five civilians aboard were found to have perished.
“Today we commemorate the sacrifice of these US Marines, the Nepali soldiers, and citizens of Nepal,” said Ellison. “The loss of life came in many forms. The deceased varied in rank from Captain to Warrant Officer to Corporal and in jobs from helicopter pilot, to soldier, to combat camera. They could have been any group of people selected by fate and in a sense they stood for us all.”
The names of those U.S. and Nepalese killed in the crash are:
Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, USMC
Capt. Christopher L. Norgren, USMC
Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV, USMC
Sgt. Eric M. Seaman, USMC
Cpl. Sara A. Medina, USMC
Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug, USMC
Capt. Tapendra Rawal, Nepalese Army
Warrant Officer 2 Basanta Titra, Nepalese Army
Mrs. Sabitri Khadka Siwakotl, Nepalese Civilian
Mr. Sain Dhoj Khatri, Nepalese Civilian
Mr. Dhruba Kumar KC, Nepalese Civilian
Mr. Yam Bahadur Khatri, Nepalese Civilian
Mr. Lok Bahadur Katawai Chhetri, Nepalese Civilian
The U.S. Embassy commemorated their loss with a memorial marker with the names of those lost in the crash etched in stone.
“The dedication of the Marines who responded to the 2015 earthquakes is a clear example of the United States’ commitment to work with the Nepali people to rebuild, and to prepare for when disaster strikes again,” said Berry.
“In the military our source of strength is our people. They are the epitome of honor, courage, and commitment and we harness their courageous spirit in the face of danger,” said Ellison. “Moreover, being a Marine is more than being courageous in the face of danger. Being a good Marine also requires us to be compassionate. There is no limit to the lengths of human compassion and we draw on it as our highest source of strength and use it as a force for good no matter the crisis.”
Marines of III MEF, 3D MEB and Marine Corps Installations Pacific also gathered on May 30, 2022 for a Memorial Day run in remembrance of MCIPAC Marines Cpl. Sara Medina’s and Lance Cpl. Jacob Hug’s loss in the tragedy, as well as for others who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“All those service members deployed to Nepal were selfless individuals dedicated to the international humanitarian aid mission they embarked upon,” said Ellison. “We stood by Nepal then, and continue to stand by Nepal today.”
During the operation, the 900 US service members comprising Joint Task Force 505 executed 22 missions and distributed over 113 short tons of aid to remote, inaccessible villages. Additionally, military aircraft coordinated with USAID to transport 550 response personnel and other civilians, including 63 injured Nepali citizens to hospitals for lifesaving care.