Pakistani military helicopters continue to search for three missing climbers on the world’s second-highest mountain K2, as hopes for their survival fade rapidly.
Muhammad Ali Sadpara, 45, of Pakistan, John Snorri, 47, of Iceland, and Juan Pablo Mohr, 33, of Chile, were last seen on Friday around noon at what is considered the most difficult part of the climb: the Bottleneck, a steep, narrow gully just 300 metres (about 980 feet) shy of the 8,611-metre-high (28,251 ft) K2.
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The spot is just above the altitude ceiling for helicopters, which have been searching the Karakorum mountain range of the Himalayas for three days now.
Sadpara, one of Pakistan’s most celebrated climbers who had ascended eight of the world’s highest mountains, was accompanied by his 20-year-old son Sajid Sadpara, who was told by his father to climb down when an oxygen mask he was using malfunctioned.
He told reporters on Sunday he waited overnight at a camp just below the Bottleneck, believing the three had summited and would be coming down.
“I kept the light of my tent on at night thinking they would see it when they return,” he said.
“I think if they search for the bodies it makes sense to continue the operation, but their chances of surviving, if you are at 8,000 [metres] in winter for two or three days, a person’s chances of surviving are next to none.”
It was the group’s second attempt at climbing K2 this winter, a season that has already seen three other climbers die in the area.
Bulgarian Atanas Skatov’s body was picked up by a helicopter on February 5; officials believe he fell while trying to climb K2.
Last month, a team of 10 Nepali Sherpas became the first people to summit K2 in the winter.
The same day, Spanish climber Sergio Mingote, 49, died after he fell down a crevasse attempting to make his way down to Base Camp.
Also last month, American Alex Goldfarb-Rumyantzev died trying to scale nearby Pastore Peak in preparation for attempting to summit the 8,047-metre (26,400 feet) Broad Peak.
In 2008, 11 climbers died on K2 over the course of two days.
Since the climbers went missing, Iceland’s foreign minister, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, has spoken to his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, by telephone.
According to Pakistan’s foreign ministry, Qureshi assured him that Pakistan would spare no effort in the search for the missing mountaineers.
Although Mount Everest is 237 metres (777 feet) taller, K2 is much farther north, on the border with China, and subject to worse weather conditions, according to mountaineering experts.
A winter climb is particularly dangerous because of the unpredictable and rapidly changing weather.
Winter winds on K2 can blow at more than 200km/h (125 mph) and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 Fahrenheit).