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ISLAMABAD/GILGIT: Russian mountaineer Alexander Gukov, who was trapped on Latok-I since July 25, was rescued by Pakistani military helicopter from 6,200 metres early Tuesday morning.

“It is a miracle. He is unhurt and does not have frost bite. He is weak but he can speak and walk,” said Neknam, who was managing Mr Gukov and his team mate Sergey Glazunov’s expedition.

Sergey had fallen to his death.

“The duo is ranked among the top 10 mountaineers who can take on extreme climbing challenges. Had it been any other climber, he might not have survived,” Neknam told Dawn.

The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) described the rescue operation as an “absolute miracle”.

ACP Secretary Karrar Haidri said a pair of army helicopters took off from Skardu at around 5am Tuesday morning.

The pilots flew around the mountain for some 45 minutes at 6,300 metres before spotting Mr Gukov on a narrow ridge. In a sling operation, the helicopter hovered over the stranded mountaineer and a rope was tossed down at the climber, hanging from the mountain as the second helicopter guided him through the operation.

“It took 15 minutes for Mr Gukov to grab hold of the sling and tie it to his harness and the climber was pulled off the slopes of Latok-I after having been trapped for over six days on the 7,145 metre peak,” Mr Haidri said.

The rescue mission had been delayed since July 27 due to bad weather. The weather cleared on Sunday but visibility was still poor above 5,000. Mr Haidri said the rescue mission was performed by the 5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron, whose pilots put their lives in danger for two consecutive days.

“This is the second time such a daring rescue operation was performed by the pilots. Thomas Humar was rescued in a similar sling operation on Nanga Parbat, flying close to the walls of the cliff in strong winds, which created turbulence,” Mr Haidri said.

ACP said that this was the duo’s second attempt on Latok I. They were caught in a similar life and death situation in 2017 when they were attempting the same peak and were stuck on Latok-I for five days.

Alexander Gukov and Sergey Glazunov were aiming to ascend through the mountain’s North Ridge, famously first attempted in 1978, according to ACP.

In the following 40 years, the fearsome and seemingly never-ending arduous 2,400 metres crest line has been unsuccessfully attempted repeatedly by many of the world’s leading alpinists.

Appreciating the challenging aviation effort, Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited the rescued mountaineer at Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi.

The duo’s expedition was organised by the Adventure Tour of Pakistan.

The managing director of the organisation, Ashraf Aman, told Dawn the mountaineers had taken five days worth of food and water with them. The climbers were returning after abandoning the summit following bad weather when they met with the accident.

Mr Gukov had sent out an SOS after the accident as he clung to the wall without equipment and food supplies. He managed to build a snow cocoon to shield himself and was able to stay in contact with the rescuers via a satellite phone.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2018