More than 100 Britons left stranded in earthquake-hit Nepal have began to arrive back in the UK today, as the first British fatality of the disaster was confirmed.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the victim had dual nationality and was a resident of Hong Kong, while officials are “urgently investigating” reports that another Briton has been killed at Mount Everest base camp.
Some 300 Britons have been housed in the British embassy in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu since the 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck on Saturday, which has claimed more than 5,000 lives.
A UK aid flight carrying 120 of the British nationals is expected to land at Stansted Airport in the early hours.
Mr Hammond said hundreds of Britons had now been accounted for but the situation remained “extremely challenging” because of widespread infrastructure damage caused by the earthquake, landslides and avalanches.
Search and rescue teams, medics and armed services from the UK are on the ground helping those in need, he added.
Mr Hammond said: “Our teams are working closely with the Nepalese army and authorities to locate British nationals in remote areas and get them to safety.
“We know that this is an agonising time for those who are waiting for news of loved ones.
“But the scale of the disaster and the limited communications means that it may be some time before we can account for everyone. Many are likely to be in a place of safety but not able to communicate easily.”
Some 19 million had been donated to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Nepal Earthquake Appeal just a day after it was launched, while Britain is preparing to send RAF Chinook helicopters to Nepal to help with the relief effort.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the tragedy, but Nepal’s prime minister Sushil Koirala said the death toll could eventually rise to more than 10,000.
Eight million people have been affected by the disaster which has wiped out entire villages, according to the United Nations.
A British survivor believed to be the first to return to the UK described the moment the quake struck.
Tom Greensmith, whose hotel in Kathmandu was destroyed, said he crouched in a garden with his girlfriend while the ground shook for more than a minute.
Speaking after landing at London’s Heathrow Airport, the 33-year-old, from Bath, told the BBC: “We could hear the screams from a children’s school as things were breaking and mirrors were coming down.
“Nothing’s built well there, and you could hear buildings coming down.”
A medical student from Leicester university, American Dr Marisa Eve Girawong, was among those killed in avalanches on Everest.
About 30 British and Irish families are reportedly still waiting for news of their loved ones who may have been in Nepal at the time of the earthquake.
Nina Ross said her sister Susannah, 20, from Bath, was among a group of trekkers in the Langtang valley in the north of the country.
She received a satellite message at about 5am yesterday saying the group is still awaiting rescue and she called for pressure to be put on authorities to act.
“We’re really hoping to get through to different embassies to hurry it up because there’s still falling rocks in that area that are killing people,” Ms Ross, 25, said.
British personnel have arrived in Nepal to help with the overall rescue operation.
A team of more than 60 UK international search and rescue responders and specialist rescue dogs have arrived, with some already operating on the ground and travelling out of the capital to more remote areas, the Department for International Development said.
The personnel are drawn from 15 fire and rescue services from across the UK, and their capabilities include locating deeply-buried victims, constructing timber supports to safely shore up buildings and providing advanced life support.
They were joined by an eight-strong group of expert trauma medics, and more UK medical crews are expected to arrive in the country in the coming days.
Donations to the DEC’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal include 14 million given by the UK public by text, phone and online, and 5 million from the UK Government through Aid Match.
The British public have been urged to do what they can to help in the wake of the quake, with a televised appeal reminding people of the sacrifices made by Nepalese Gurkha soldiers as part of the British Army in decades past.
Two hundred gurkhas will march in London today to honour those who have sacrificed their lives for Britain over the last 200 years.