Elite climbers have scaled the treacherous slopes of Pakistan’s “Killer Mountain” in pitch darkness in an extraordinary attempt to rescue two mountaineers.
The rescuers climbed more than 1,000 metres up Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, to reach Frenchwoman Elisabeth Revol in the middle of the night. But they were forced to make the heartbreaking decision not to go on to find Tomasz Mackiewicz, from Poland.
Ludovic Giambiasi, a friend of Revol, said: “The rescue for Tomasz is unfortunately not possible – because of the weather and altitude it would put the life of rescuers in extreme danger. It’s a terrible and painful decision. We are in deep sadness. All our thoughts go out to Tomek’s family and friends. We are crying.”
Revol and Mackiwiecz had been climbing the Himalayan peak, which is 8,126 metres (26,660ft) high, when Mackiewicz developed frostbite and snow blindness on Friday after reaching about 7,400 metres. Revol helped her climbing partner descend a few hundred metres and set up tent, before going further down to call for help on a satellite phone.
Friends and fellow mountaineers raised the alarm. Masha Gordon, a Russian-born British businesswoman, set up a crowdfunding webpage to support the rescue efforts. Pakistan’s military responded by picking up a group of Polish climbers attempting the ascent of K2, the world’s second highest mountain, and taking them to base camp at 4,800 metres.
The elite mountaineers Adam Bielicki and Denis Urubko began their ascent on Saturday evening, trying to reach Revol while the winter weather remained clear enough to allow them to climb. Meanwhile, helicopters from Askari Aviation, owned by the Pakistani military, flew around the mountain to find Revol and Mackiewicz, after the batteries on their tracker and satellite phone had gone flat.
Brig Shahid Sardar told Reuters on Saturday they had spotted Revol but had been forced to turn back. “We are hoping they will reach the French lady by tomorrow, but there is no contact with the Polish climber. It is a very complex rescue operation,” he said.
Thousands of people donated to Gordon’s GoFundMe website and supporters around the world tracked the progress of the Polish rescuers via their GPS signal and social media.
At about 3am local time, Gordon posted an emotional update: “Urubko and Bielecki are with Elisabeth – info from two other climbers who are there and have radio contact with them,” she wrote. “We are crying from happiness.”
But the hopes for Mackiewicz dissipated within an hour when Giambiasi broke the news he would not be rescued. “Decision of the rescue team: Urubko and Bielecki will go down with Elisabeth,” he posted on Facebook. “Tomorrow morning at around 10 if weather allows all 5 will be transported to Skardu by helicopter organised by Polish embassy.”
Nanga Parbat obtained its “Killer Mountain” nickname because of the number of lives it has claimed over the years. In June 2017 a Spanish man and an Argentinian perished in an avalanche while trying to scale its peak. The first successful winter ascent of the mountain was made as recently as February 2016.
Mackiewicz had made six previous attempts to scale Nanga Parbat in winter.
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