Search for missing climbers on K2 suspended due to harsh weather, will resume tomorrow

Published February 9, 2021
This file photo shows Pakistani climber Muhammad Ali Sadpara on top of K2. — Photo: Sadpara Facebook
This file photo shows Pakistani climber Muhammad Ali Sadpara on top of K2. — Photo: Sadpara Facebook

The search for Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Jon Snorri and Juan Pablo Mohr who went missing on K2 has been suspended for today (Tuesday) — due to strong winds and snowfall — and will resume tomorrow, with the army deploying a C-130 for the mission.

The three men were last seen at the Bottleneck barely 400 meters below the summit of the Savage Mountain. A narrow couloir, the Bottleneck is overhung by seracs (extremely large blocks of glacial ice that often topple without warning) from the ice field east of the summit. Climbers have to traverse about 100m exposed to the seracs to pass the Bottleneck.

Talking to Dawn.com, Alpine Club of Pakistan secretary Karrar Haidri said bad weather made it impossible for the Army Aviation helicopters to take off today. “It’s snowing and there is poor visibility in the area,” he added.

On K2, “A dusting of new snow. Extremely cold (max -35°C on Wed afternoon, min -43°C on Tue morning) Mainly gales, severe by Wed afternoon,” reads a grim three-day forecast.

Pakistani climber and skier Karim Shah Naziri and Romanian mountaineer Alex Găvan said the rescue operation tomorrow would strongly depend on weather conditions.

Naziri said the weather forecast for Wednesday was not that great, as gusty winds will make the exercise difficult, if not impossible.

Sharing details, Naziri said the army will employ a C-130 for the search and rescue mission tomorrow as it can fly at around 8,000m. “Aerial surveillance will be carried out but all that depends on the weather conditions. If the mountain is visible, then the flight will take place. Photos will be taken and sensors will be used to spot the climbers.

“The elevation will be taken into consideration and on that basis, a decision will be taken if teams from the ground — comprising local climbers and high altitude porters — will be sent up or not. Retrieving the bodies will depend on where they are,” he added.

So far, Army Aviation helicopters made trips for the purpose of ‘aerial reconnaissance’, a military term for ‘imagery intelligence, and the observation of enemy maneuvers’. In this case, these flights were carried out to locate the missing men. Sadpara’s relatives Akbar and Imtiaz, who had stayed back at the site in a bid to locate the climbers, have retreated, but are said to be at the base camp.

“The Pakistani army and people on the ground at the [K2] base camp went much beyond the limit for finding our friends. Unfavourable weather made any kind of further search to be impossible today,” said Găvan.

The cruel reality is that after so many days passed the chances of their survival are minimal, he acknowledged.

Meanwhile, in a late evening update, Alpine Club of Pakistan's Haidri said that taking weather conditions into account, all foreign expeditions at the K2 base camp had decided to end the winter season 2020-21.

Families grateful for ‘concern, compassion’

Meanwhile, the families of the three climbers issued a statement thanking everyone for their support and expressing the hope that the mission can resume within the shortest timeframe possible.

“We would like to thank everyone who expressed interest in Jon, Ali and JP’s climb, and to those who expressed concern for their well being, those who offered to help (especially Alex Găvan) and those who prayed for their safety and offered ideas and thoughts on the use of drones and search locations. We heard you and appreciate the care, concern and compassion you showed,” the press release said.

The statement added that British-American climber Vanessa O’Brien, who also serves as Pakistan’s Goodwill Ambassador and summited K2 with Snorri, has been coordinating – via a virtual base camp – search and rescue efforts for the missing climbers and providing support to the families.

“At our virtual base camp, we were fortunate to receive Hi-Res Satellite SAR imagery. SAT imagery has been used in past rescue operations, but no one has ever quite used SAR imagery like this before. It gave us the perfect visual acuity to view areas inaccessible to helicopters because of harsh winter conditions and excessive winds,” the press release said.

“We supplemented this data with input from other technological devices the climbers carried together with interviews from witnesses, to create a timeframe of the climbers’ locations during their summit bid,” the statement said.

“We are grateful for the six helicopter flights by the Pakistan Army pilots, who pushed the upper limits during each of these search flights,” the statement said, thanking the Pakistan Army and all those who have aided the mission.

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