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Missing mountaineers declared dead

March 09, 2013

ISLAMABAD, March 9: The Polish expedition that captured the Broad Peak summit for the first time in the winter wished farewell to the mountain and two of its climbers, who went missing on their descent.

“We must conclude that 58-year-old Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski, 27, are dead,” said Krzysztof Wielicki, the manager of the Polish Broad Peak Team, in a statement on Saturday.

“The expedition is over,” added Karrar Haidri, the media coordinator for the Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP).

The team manager along with Artur MaB ek, Adam Bielecki and porters Shaheen Baig, Aminullah and Karim Hayyat accompanied by other support staff had started trekking through Baltoro Glacier back home.

On March 5, Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Artur MaB_ek and Tomasz Kowalski became the first ever climbers to summit the Broad Peak in the Karakorum Range in the winter.

After the summit, Artur MaB_ek and Adam Bielecki came down to Camp IV at an altitude of 7,400 metres.

However, Tomasz Kowalski and Maciej Berbeka stayed without a tent at the altitude of 7,900 metres.

And on March 6, Tomasz Kowalski and Maciej Berbeka were declared missing.

Mr Hairdi explained that the descent and the march through the Baltoro Glacier would have taken the team about five days.

When contacted, Asghar Porik, the tour operator for the Polish expedition, believed that the mountaineers could not recover from extreme conditions.

“The climbers started out late. They should have summated between 1pm and 2pm that day instead of around 6pm. It is imperative to have a margin to return to the base camp before it gets dark and becomes cold. Temperatures above 7,000 metres drop to 35 degrees centigrade below zero. The climbers camped in the open at 7,900 metres under the open sky. They were exhausted and the weather was harsh,” said Porik, ruling out the possibility of the climbers falling in crevasses or blown away by strong winds.

Porik added that sending in helicopters was useless because they could not fly over 6,500 metres given the atmospheric conditions around the Broad Peak.

This was seconded by the Polish expedition, which said in its statement, “In Pakistan they may fly up to 6,700 metres and may lift an injured person on a rope from approximately 6,400 metre. In the area of Broad Peak, helicopters cannot land above the base camp at 4,950 metres and it was pointless to use helicopters to search the terrain.”

Porik also explained how the team had lost/broken their only Global Positioning System locators a few days before the summit, a point also confirmed by the Polish team.

The weather on March 7 did not allow for flight and would not allow it during the next days. According ACP, the weather had broken down completely.

It rained, visibility became zero, and the base was in fog. Snowfall and ‘very’ strong winds of hurricane strength – 100 kilometres per hour - followed at the height of 8,000 metres.

FRENCH CLIMBER: The ACP also confirmed the death of a French climber who went missing on the Nanga Parbat after March 6.

It said rescue attempts for the solo climber were interrupted by heavy snowfall on February 19-21 with temperatures falling as low as minus 17 degrees centigrade.

Joel Wischnewski was attempting one of the most difficult assents on the 8,126 metres high peak.

He had complained of constant stomach pain.

And on February 3, he reported on his online blog that he was losing blood from his intestines.