Missing climbers Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Iceland's John Snorri Sigurjónsson and Chile's Juan Pablo Mohr Prieto were officially declared dead on Thursday in a press conference attended by the families and friends of the climbers in Skardu.
Gilgit-Baltistan Tourism Minister Raja Nasir Ali Khan and Ali Sadpara's son, Sajid Sadpara, were also present at the briefing.
The three climbers were last seen on Feb 5 near the Bottleneck on K2 as they attempted to reach the summit of the Savage Mountain. Sajid Sadpara, who was accompanying the three, had to abandon his summit bid after his oxygen regulator malfunctioned and he returned to camp 3.
Bad weather thwarted multiple attempts to search for the missing climbers, though the efforts continued.
A Feb 14 update on the search mission said that the "leads — taken after scrutinising satellite images, using SAR technology and checking testimonials and timings — turned out to be a sleeping bag, torn tents or sleeping pads, none of which belong to these climbers."
"The overwhelming love and support for the 'national hero Ali Sadpara' has given immense strength to me, my younger brothers, my sister, and my mother. My family and I have lost a kindhearted person and the Pakistani nation has lost a brave and great adventurous individual who was passionate about the Pakistani flag to the point of insanity," an emotional Sajid said.
Stressing that the outpour of love from Pakistanis offered his family great support in a tragic time, Sajid said that he will follow his father’s footsteps and continue to climb.
He said that his father had climbed eight of the 14 8,000 metre peaks in the world with great skill and placed the green Pakistani flag on their summits. "He set many records including the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 and earned immense respect and praise from the best climbers in the world. This is his lasting legacy," he added.
"When I returned to Skardu and met the media, I said they went missing in the death zone and chances of their survival are minimal and more lives must not be placed in danger during the search," Sajid said as he went on to thank Prime Minister Imran Khan, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) and the "brave pilots of Askari Aviation" along with a long list of officials for ensuring that all available resources were utilised during the search and rescue operation.
"I want to thank all Pakistanis who sent good wishes for my father in this difficult time. Your wishes raised the hopes of the mountaineers who come to Pakistan," he said.
Citing experienced climbers, Sajid said he believed his father and the other two mountaineers made it to the summit of K2, but met with an accident on their way down. He was with them but unfortunately, he had to descend because he felt unwell and his oxygen equipment had issues.
"All three were strong mountaineers — willing, able and with the courage to make history by standing on top of K2 in winter conditions. Based on the last known contact by John Snorri’s telephone, we are confident that all three men made it to the top of K2 and something happened on the descent," JP Deban, a friend of Mohr’s said at the press conference as he read out a statement on behalf of the families of foreign climbers.
"John Snorri’s family would like to extend gratitude to the authorities of Pakistan, Chile and Iceland for their efforts and devotion for finding our loved ones. There is no doubt in our mind that the extent of research and technologies used in the search were unprecedented and hopefully will improve the safety of future mountaineers along the way.
"The Pakistan Army has been extremely supportive in this difficult time, sharing resources and manpower. To the great people of Pakistan Army, we say thank you for caring for Ali, John and Pablo," he added.
"The friendship between Ali, John and Sajid is something we will cherish. As such, we are grateful for the safety and survival of Sajid."
The statement further said: "Our Icelandic hearts are beating with Pakistani and Chilean hearts. Thank you to all who have devoted your time to the search and taken the time to care by sending supportive words and thoughts to us in these difficult times. Ali, John and Juan Pablo will live forever in our hearts.
"Also, as Juan Pablo Mohr's family, we want to share the same feelings and gratitude for all who were involved in this historic operation, Pakistan government, government of Gilgit Baltistan, and Pakistan Army and with a special mention of the Sadpara family, for all the support and friendship and their friends and people from Skardu, whose love for Ali, JP and John is now forever in our hearts. We will continue their legacy, together," it added.
Paying tribute to Sadpara, the tourism minister said that the GB government has recommended civil awards for Sadpara and his son. A financial package for the family would also be announced along with scholarships for his children, he added. The recommendations included the renaming of Skardu Airport as Muhammad Ali Sadpara Airport and a government job for Sajid. A mountaineering school in Shigar will be named after Sadpara.
President Arif Alvi expressed condolences to Muhammad Ali Sadpara's family as well as the families of the other climbers.
In a tweet, he paid tribute to Sadpara, saying "he battled nature with strength, fortitude and heroism."
The Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) said that it was a "very sad moment because we lost our friends".
"Five strong climbers were lost during the K2 Winter Expedition 2021, especially Muhammad Ali Sadpara, our national hero. Our deepest sympathies go out to the mountaineers' families. May Allah give them comfort and peace and may the soul of the mountaineers rest in peace," the statement by ACP secretary Karrar Haidri read.
Apart from Sadpara, Snorri, Mohr, mountaineers Atanas Skatov and Sergi Mingote Moreno were also attempting the K2 winter summit this year and lost their lives on the mountain.