The rescue operation to locate three climbers, including Pakistan's Muhammad Ali Sadpara, who went missing while attempting to summit the world's second-highest mountain, K2, was "temporarily suspended" after it failed to locate the mountaineers for the second day on Sunday.
Climbers part of the search operation, including Nazir Sabir and Romanian Alex Găvan, confirmed to Dawn.com that an operation to locate the missing mountaineers would continue on Monday for a third straight day.
Sadpara, John Snorri from Iceland and JP Mohr from Chile have not been contacted since the three began their push for the K2 summit from camp 3 at midnight between Thursday and Friday, according to their team.
Several experts, including local high altitude climbers Fazal Ali and Jalal from Shimshal, Imtiaz Hussain and Akbar Ali from Skardu, Găvan, Sabir, Chhang Dawa Sherpa, and other members of the SST winter expedition team, are part of the rescue mission.
Two army helicopters flew to their maximum limit of 7,800 metres for a second time and conducted aerial reconnaissance for an hour to locate the missing climbers. The search team traced the Abruzzi and other routes but did not see any signs of the mountaineers, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa.
Sherpa said the operation was not successful due to cloudy conditions and strong winds, and was temporarily suspended.
"Yesterday (Saturday) the weather was partly cloudy, but despite this the army helicopters went searching for the missing climbers above 7,000m. On Sunday, Dawa Sherpa and Sajid Sadpara were flown above 7,800m up and down the Abruzzi Ridge and above the South Face," mountaineer Sabir said.
"In case of a fall from the bottleneck area, the climbers could be found on the South Face," he explained.
Sabir said the plan was that tomorrow (Monday) army helicopters will return to K2 and continue the search operation for the missing climbers.
"Although with every hour passing the chances of our friends being still alive are becoming very marginal, a helicopter reconnaissance will be conducted on Feb 8 in the morning, for the third day in a row, weather permitting. Everyone is doing their very best," said Găvan, who is part of the rescue efforts. Găvan had abandoned his winter bid for the K2 summit earlier in January.
Talking to media in Skardu, Sajid Sadpara, the son of Ali Sadpara who was also part of the expedition but had to abandon due to equipment issues, said the three climbers probably met an accident while on their way back after summiting the K2. He said the trio had already climbed 8,200m when he broke away from them.
Sajid said the chances of surviving the extremely cold weather after remaining missing for three days and without proper gear were "very low", adding that an operation could be conducted to retrieve the bodies.
"We had started our push for the K2 summit on February 5 at 12am. I, my father Ali Sadpara, John Snorri and JP Mohr were at the bottleneck, while other climbers had descended," Sajid said, adding that he decided to descend to camp 3 from an altitude of 8,200m after the oxygen regulator he was using leaked.
Sajid said he started his descent from the bottleneck around 12pm and arrived at camp 3 at 5pm, adding that he could not get in touch with the climbers because their communication devices were not functional.
He said he spent that night waiting for the climbers at camp 3, and kept the camp light on so the missing mountaineers would notice it.
On Saturday morning, the base camp manager told Sajid not to move up as the weather conditions were not good, and advised him to begin his descent.
"Unfortunately, the climbers didn't come the next day either," said Sajid, who reached the K2 base camp on Saturday evening.
"My father Ali Sadpara and the other two climbers were crossing bottleneck (8,200m), which is the most technical part of K2, at 11am on Friday. I am sure they went missing while descending from the summit," he added.
He thanked the Pakistan Army, civil administration, the rescue team, and well-wishers for their support and sympathy in this situation.
An official of the expedition team earlier told Dawn that rescue teams were searching for the missing climbers by following the route they had taken towards the summit through helicopters. The search will continue until all three are located, he added.
Another official of the expedition said the rescue teams were trying hard to trace the mountaineers.
The search began on Saturday with aerial reconnaissance but the helicopters returned after worsening weather conditions made the search harder to continue, according to Chhang Dawa Sherpa.
The three lost contact with base camp late on Friday and were reported missing on Saturday after their support team stopped receiving reports from them during their ascent of the 8,611-metre high K2 mountain.
"The base camp received no signals from Sadpara and his foreign companions after 8,000 metres [...] A search is on and let’s pray for their safe return home," Karrar Haideri, a top official with the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told The Associated Press.
On Saturday, choppers flew to a height of 7,000m to try to locate the missing mountaineers with no success.
News of the missing men comes a day after a Bulgarian mountaineer was confirmed to have died on K2.
At the time the three began their summit attempt, 18 members of one of the expedition teams decided to abandon their attempt and spent the night at camp 3, choosing instead to descend on Friday morning.
Earlier, it was reported that the three climbers had managed to summit K2, prompting congratulations from government officials, including the Gilgit-Baltistan governor and chief minister. However, no official statement has been released in this regard and it is currently unclear whether they managed to summit the peak on Friday or not.
Speaking to Dawn, an official from the expedition team said the only verified news was that the climbers had crossed the bottleneck which led many to assume that they had reached the summit.
The foreign ministry issued a statement saying Iceland’s foreign minister, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, spoke to Shah Mehmood Qureshi by telephone. Qureshi assured him that Pakistan will spare no effort in the search for the missing mountaineers.
Haideri noted Sadpara’s experience as a mountaineer who has climbed the world’s eight highest mountains, including the highest, Mount Everest, and was attempting to climb K2 in winter.
K2 is the most prominent peak on the Pakistani side of the Himalayan range and the world’s second tallest after Mount Everest. Winter winds on K2 can blow at more than 200 kph and temperatures drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius.
A team of 10 Nepalese climbers made history on Jan 16 by scaling the K2 for the first time in winter.
With input from AP