Parents cried with relief and hugged their daughters who were unscathed by the 7.8-magnitude quake which killed more than 6 000 people in Nepal and surrounding countries.
The group of 18 girls, who are in Grade 9 to 12, left South Africa on April 15, 10 days before the earthquake, to join a World Challenge Expedition. World Challenge organises educational expeditions worldwide.
The earthquake destroyed buildings and left thousands of people displaced. Rural areas across the region were severely affected.
At the airport yesterday, one of the parents, Susan McCardle, said: “I was terrified. I imagined what my child was going through.
“We had a WhatsApp group for parents to update and comfort each other and I believe most of us drew strength from that group.”
Another girl’s grandmother, Sue Stevens, said she had sleepless nights despite the daily updates.
Claire Hanley, one of the teachers who travelled with the girls, said the quake gave them all a fright, but she commended the World Challenge team.
“When the earthquake hit, we were in the valley in Ghandruk during lunchtime so we could not get a signal. We did not know it was a serious earthquake at that stage. It felt like a little shake.
“When we realised the severity of the quake, all the teachers were provided with satellite phones so we could update the World Challenge team about our location every hour,” said Hanley.
The girls were kept safe in accommodation away from the badly affected areas. Initially, the group were expected back on Thursday but due to closed tour routes, they had to fly to Doha, from there to Hong Kong and then to SA.