Harsh weather continues to thwart search for missing climbers on K2

The families of missing climbers Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Jon Snorri and Juan Pablo Mohr said they have made the difficult decision to proceed with their rescue mission after “72 gruelling hours of non-stop intensive efforts” that were halted the day before due to bad weather.

Hopes for the survival of the three climbers were waning as heavy clouds continued to obscure K2 on Tuesday. The dimming hope was particularly poignant as Tuesday marks the Chilean climber Mohr’s 34th birthday.

The three lost contact with base camp late on Friday and were reported missing on Saturday, after their support team stopped receiving communications from them during their ascent of the world’s second-highest mountain.

According to an Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) official, the search and rescue mission for the three climbers will continue on Tuesday once the weather improves and all resources at the disposal of the military have been mobilised.

The official said all air and ground efforts are being utilised as the search and rescue mission enters the fourth day, acknowledging that due to the high altitude and extreme weather conditions, the search mission was facing difficulties. But he added that “no stone will be left unturned” and that the search will continue.

Sharing details, the official said that in the last 72 hours, two helicopters of Army Aviation — which have a height ceiling of 7,000m — were used.

The Ecureuil helicopters, which are currently undertaking the mission, cannot operate above 7,000m, whereas the climbers are believed to be somewhere above the bottleneck which begins at an altitude of 8,100m, the official said.

“Yesterday, a special forward-looking infrared (FLIR) mission by a C-130 aircraft was planned. However, the FLIR cannot operate at that altitude and temperature,” an update shared by the ISPR read.

Meanwhile, Alpine Club secretary Karrar Haidri said the mission will go on but poor weather conditions were making the exercise difficult. “It is very cloudy today and visibility is low. Hopefully the weather will improve,” he added.

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 every 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 Chief of Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa, the Pakistan Army and all those who have aided the mission.

Input from AP/Dawn