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K2: hopes for survival of three climbers waning

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Search-rescue-operation remains suspended due to bad weather

High Asia Herald Report

File Photo of missing mountaineers: (From L-R) John Snorri of Iceland, Muhammad Ali Sadpara of Gilgit-Baltistan, and Juan Pablo Mohr of Chile.

Islamabad: Hopes for the survival of the three mountain climbers who went missing last Friday while attempting to scale K2, the world’s second-highest mountain, is waning.

The army aviation helicopters could not resume search operation on Wednesday as heavy clouds continued to envelop the mountain, Karim Nezari who is in contact with rest of the team members at Base Camp told The High Asia Herald.

The search for the three climbers – Muhammad Ali Sadpara, 43, of Gilgit-Baltistan, 45, John Snorri of Iceland and Juan Pablo Mohr, 33, of Chile —  was called off on Monday as heavy clouds enveloped K2.

Meanwhile Imtiaz Hussain and Akbar Ali, cousin and nephew of Ali Sadpara, who are the high altitude porters, had to retreat to BC in the face of the hostile weather.

The fading hope was particularly poignant as Tuesday was the Chilean climber Mohr’s 34 birthday.

They lost communication with the support team at base camp late Friday during their ascent around noon, at a narrow couloir called Bottleneck, the precipitous climb just 300 meters from the peak of the 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) — that’s more than five miles — above sea level.

The families in a statement on Monday said the search-and-rescue mission was waiting for high resolution satellite imagery that can enable it to view “areas inaccessible to helicopters because of harsh winter conditions and excessive winds.”

The mountain is considered to be dangerous for attempting in winter as winds can blow at over 12okm per hour and temperatures can drop to minus 76 degree Celsius.

However, a team of 10 Nepali climbers made history last month when they for the first time made it to the top of the peak in winter.

In one of the deadliest mountaineering accidents, 11 climbers perished in a single day trying to scale K2 in 2008.

Vanessa O’Brien, the first American woman climber to summit K2, who is assisting in search and rescue operation from New York said she had spoken with the families of the climbers as time is running out and the survival of the three seems more impossible with every hour.

 “The families are so gutted as weather and winds have stopped the search and rescue,” O’Brien said in an email to the Associated Press.

Among those waiting at the BC was Sadpara’s son Sajid Ali Sadpara, who had begun the climb with his father but was forced to abandon the summit attempt at an altitude of 8,200 meters after his oxygen pipe started leaking.

He waited 20 hours at camp 3 before making the descent last week. Since the search started, he has been on the helicopter flights, searching for his father.

“We know only a miracle can bring them back alive and we are waiting for the miracle,” he said Tuesday. He also said his father had volunteered for dozens of search operations and had “saved many climbers.”

“There is no hope for anyone to survive at 8,000 meters after three days,” said Sajid Ali Sadpara. “Now the search operation should continue to recover the bodies,” he added.

Sajid Sadpara said the expedition team had been trying to reach the summit since December 12. They began their second attempt on Thursday, he said.

Dwarfed by Mount Everest, K2 is considered one of the most difficult ascents — for every four climbers attempting to summit K2, one dies, said O’Brien, compared to 1 in every 20 attempting to climb Nepal’s Everest.

Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a member of the Nepali expedition last month, has also been assisting in the search and rescue, as has Sadpara’s close friend Rao Ahmad.

O’Brien scaled K2 in 2017, after three unsuccessful attempts, becoming the first American and British woman — she holds dual citizenship — to summit the treacherous peak. It was a “tough summit,” she recounted to the AP. “Sixteen hours one way.”

Few people would consider something as difficult and dangerous as a summit ascent, she added, but “mountaineers do it all the time.”

For decades, climbers from across the world have regarded scaling K2 from November to the end of February as one of the most daunting challenges in mountaineering.

Over 360 climbers have scaled K2 and 86 have lost their lives since 1954.

In 2008, 11 lives were lost, while 13 climbers died over a two-week span in 1986, one of the worst disasters in mountaineering history. Mountaineering experts say climbers face a lack of oxygen, snow blindness and frostbite.

This winter has been especially deadly. Last month, two climbers died after either falling down a crevasse while descending or trying to scale nearby peaks in preparation for K2.

A 42-year-old Bulgarian alpinist, Atanas Skatov, was found dead on Friday by a Pakistani Army helicopter on K2 after reportedly falling at about 7,400 meters.

In January, a Spanish climber, Sergi Mingote, fell to his death while descending the mountain. Alex Goldfarb, a Russian-American professor from Harvard University, also lost his life in the same month on a nearby mountain during an acclimatizing mission.

—Additional inputs from New York Times, AP & Reuters

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