K-2 Search and Rescue Mission for the Missing Climbers

𝐂𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐢𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫?

𝐘𝐞𝐬, How? The answer needs deep contemplation transcending emotions.

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For more pieces related to Ali Sadpara, visit.

Hundreds of friends have asked me above questions. With hindsight of rescues using only a magnetic compass and an old map in early 90s up to the miracles of modern-day technology, a quantum jump has been made in search and rescue efforts but one thing has not changed; 𝐓𝐈𝐌𝐄!

Like in any other emergency, the difference between life and death is decided by timely location and transportation to a medical facility. In the “Death Zone” you can’t survive more than a few hours.

This emergency was no different for me. A friend from Nepal called in the morning, “Rashid, disaster on the K2. Quick help”. I contacted General Khalil Dar immediately and was much relieved to know the helicopters are already on their way. 𝐑𝐞𝐬𝐩𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐞 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝𝐧’𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫.

But sending a timely response is one thing while locating the missing climbers is quite another. It is more difficult than finding a needle in the haystack. Search is aided by few gadgets on ground but there were none with the lost party. Thuraya satellite phone was off the air and finding it’s last location entailed cumbersome official protocols consuming days not hours. The pilots had to search 𝐮𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐯𝐢𝐬𝐮𝐚𝐥 𝐜𝐮𝐞𝐬 𝐨𝐧𝐥𝐲, in almost white-out conditions, on one of the most gigantic mountains in the world.

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𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐢𝐥𝐨𝐭𝐬 𝐰𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐛𝐞𝐲𝐨𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐜𝐚𝐥𝐥 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐮𝐭𝐲; 𝐬𝐞𝐚𝐫𝐜𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐦𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐜𝐨𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐞𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐧 𝐦𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐬𝐲𝐦𝐩𝐚𝐭𝐡𝐲. But there is a limit to every helicopter’s capabilities. Yes, Didier Delsalle landed on the top of the Mount Everest in 2005 using a similar helicopter but a solo attempt at a world record on an ideal day is one thing and fighting elements at the most rarefied atmosphere attempting to pick a casualty is quite another.

It must be remembered that Pakistan Army Aviation is organized and equipped to support troops at the most hostile and the highest battlefield of the world. It has accomplished some of the most difficult rescues in the history, not as a part of its primary duty but as a courtesy to the visiting guests. No army in the world has as bright a record as that of Pakistan Army in this field. This time, they raised the bar further.

𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐧 𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐜𝐨𝐮𝐥𝐝 𝐢𝐭 𝐛𝐞 𝐝𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐛𝐞𝐭𝐭𝐞𝐫?

First and the foremost is the responsibility of the leader in foreseeing, forecasting, planning and equipping to execute a rescue effort when needed. There is no doubt a leader carries out risk assessment to the best of his capability and assigns resources accordingly. Undoubtedly, there are a number of delicately balanced changes forced upon by multiple pressures in time and space, financial, reputational; may be with a shade of emotions as well. The summit attempt from Camp-III, even if forced by weather forecast, was a very high-risk decision.

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I wonder how an experienced man like John Snorri preferred Thuraya over #Garmin_InReach that could send live location in an emergency on a single press of a button. The difference between the two is like someone calling you for help saying, “help! I have got a heart attack in Islamabad” and the other sending you live location with Google Maps along with the declared emergency. In which case would you reach in the shortest possible time?

The commercially available off-the-shelf technologies have made search and rescue possible in a matter of hours and minutes but only a dedicated organization, designed, equipped and positioned for SAR as their primary role can integrate systems with users and equipment manufacturers to accrue maximum benefits. An effective SAR organization is like a magnet for the tourists, it is like an insurance scheme. If the adventurers are assured that help would arrive when needed, the tourism figures may rise exponentially. But setting up such an organization is very costly. Since 2014 I made numerous efforts but at the end every investor finds venture too risky for his money. While the present government intends to promote adventure tourism, setting up an effective SAR organization would prove a great attraction. Without solid incentives and sovereign guarantees, no investor would take the plunge. It is therefore dire need of the time to go beyond words, to practical steps in regulatory and operational procedures that may make such a setup a reality.

We lost our friend with most contagious smile; Hasan Sadpara would be missed forever. His full of life videos would continue to remind us of his oneness with the place he love the most, but let us join forces, private as well as public to ensure such incidents are minimized in future.

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Lastly, we must not forget accidents do not happen due to a solitary cause. A number of factors join in one time and space to cause an accident. What really happened may remain a mystery like so many in alpinism.

𝑃𝑎𝑘𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑖𝑡𝑠 𝑢𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑠𝑝𝑢𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑏𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝑐𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑏𝑒𝑟 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒. 𝑊𝑒 𝑠ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑜𝑟𝑟𝑜𝑤 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑒𝑠 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑓𝑟𝑖𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑡 𝑔𝑒𝑚𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑐𝑙𝑖𝑚𝑏𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑙𝑑. 𝑇ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑖𝑠 𝑛𝑜𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑟𝑠𝑡 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒 𝑤𝑜𝑟𝑙𝑑 ℎ𝑎𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑡𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠𝑒𝑑 𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑏𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑦 𝑎 𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑎𝑐𝑐𝑖𝑑𝑒𝑛𝑡. 𝐼𝑛 𝑃𝑎𝑘𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑎𝑛 𝑤𝑒 𝑓𝑖𝑛𝑑 𝑖𝑚𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑠𝑒 𝑚𝑒𝑑𝑖𝑎 𝑐𝑜𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑎𝑔𝑒 𝑎𝑡 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑖𝑚𝑒 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑎𝑐𝑐𝑖𝑑𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑖𝑡 𝑎𝑙𝑙 𝑒𝑛𝑑𝑠 𝑤𝑖𝑡ℎ𝑜𝑢𝑡 𝑎 𝑐𝑜𝑛𝑐𝑟𝑒𝑡𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑠𝑡𝑖𝑡𝑢𝑡𝑖𝑜𝑛𝑎𝑙 𝑎𝑝𝑝𝑟𝑜𝑎𝑐ℎ 𝑡𝑜 𝑝𝑟𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑡 𝑟𝑒𝑐𝑢𝑟𝑟𝑒𝑛𝑐𝑒. 𝑇ℎ𝑖𝑠 𝑤𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑒-𝑢𝑝 𝑖𝑠 𝑎𝑖𝑚𝑒𝑑 𝑎𝑡 𝑓𝑖𝑛𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑤𝑎𝑦𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝑟𝑒𝑑𝑢𝑐𝑒 𝑓𝑢𝑟𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑠𝑢𝑓𝑓𝑒𝑟𝑖𝑛𝑔𝑠. 𝑅𝑒𝑎𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑎𝑟𝑒 𝑟𝑒𝑞𝑢𝑒𝑠𝑡𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑔𝑖𝑣𝑒 𝑡ℎ𝑒𝑖𝑟 𝑣𝑎𝑙𝑢𝑎𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑖𝑛𝑝𝑢𝑡, ℎ𝑜𝑤 𝑐𝑎𝑛 𝑖𝑡 𝑏𝑒 𝑑𝑜𝑛𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑡𝑒𝑟.

Responding to my earlier post a number of readers have reflected upon my “ignorance” of equipment. Yes, I wrote whatever I was “informed” about.

On the first contact by Karim Shah who was in direct contact with Alex Gavan I asked for location data. I was informed that they only had a Thuraya which went off due to battery. They believed that last position is recorded by the system and if we request Thuraya HQ, they could share it with us. Although it was their responsibility still I contacted local representative of Thuraya, Mr Tahir who was most helpful within his domain but was helpless himself in data sharing as it could only be done on State Request. It was a weekend which meant even if we run from pillar to post, it couldn’t be done in less than 24 hours; that is where I asked if they had Garmin InReach and was responded in negative. Please note all this was done by friends voluntarily to expedite the rescue while on the official channels formal rescue request had already been initiated.

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Immediately, after my article appeared on the Face Book, Hamza Anees was kind to share Garmin InReach page of John Snorri. I was shocked why those coordinating the rescue did not know about it 𝒐𝒓 𝒅𝒊𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒚 𝒉𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒊𝒕 𝒊𝒏𝒕𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒂𝒍𝒍𝒚 𝒂𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒑𝒐𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒘𝒂𝒔 𝒎𝒖𝒄𝒉 𝒉𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒂𝒖𝒕𝒉𝒐𝒓𝒊𝒛𝒆𝒅 𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒄𝒖𝒆 𝒂𝒕𝒕𝒆𝒎𝒑𝒕 𝒄𝒆𝒊𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈? After all, such things have happened in the past! A close study revealed that it was 𝒂𝒍𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒚 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒘𝒉𝒐𝒍𝒆 𝒅𝒂𝒚 𝒕𝒐𝒐 𝒍𝒂𝒕𝒆…..this data could be good to score likes on social media but a rescue pilot would prefer latest position data transfer into his navigation system for best planning and execution without loss of time; time that makes difference between life and death. The data available on the webpage was just as good as an early 80s navigation chart (see the picture).

It is a dilemma; an equipment available but underutilized or under-prioritized. 𝑨 𝒍𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒆𝒓 𝒘𝒊𝒕𝒉 𝒊𝒏𝒐𝒑𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒚 𝒆𝒒𝒖𝒊𝒑𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒅𝒆𝒄𝒊𝒅𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒕𝒐 𝒄𝒐𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒏𝒖𝒆 𝒏𝒐𝒕 𝒐𝒏𝒍𝒚 𝒂𝒄𝒄𝒆𝒑𝒕𝒔 𝒂 𝒎𝒖𝒄𝒉 𝒉𝒊𝒈𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒊𝒔𝒌 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒉𝒊𝒔 𝒕𝒆𝒂𝒎 𝒃𝒖𝒕 𝒂𝒍𝒔𝒐 𝒆𝒏𝒅𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒆𝒓𝒔 𝒔𝒖𝒃𝒔𝒆𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒉𝒆𝒍𝒑 𝒑𝒓𝒐𝒗𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒓𝒔. Could he continue if a shoe of a climber was torn?

Readers to please note that in order to facilitate Search and Rescue (SAR), all aircraft are required to have Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) onboard which sends position to the satellite in case of a crash landing that is immediately transmitted to the national SAR organization in order to facilitate earliest help at the crash site. No aircraft is allowed to fly without a serviceable ELT. This speaks of the priority accorded to the immediate detection of those in distress.

To ensure further safety the regulators may mandate additional survival equipment depending upon the level of risk any flying mission may have. When the first Pakistani pilot to circumnavigate the globe Fakhar-e-Alam was crossing Atlantic and the Pacific, he was required to carry an additional PLB (a Personal Locator Beacon) in his flying suit, so that, in case of a ditching if he drifts away from the wreckage SAR helicopters find him easily. Attempting K2 or Nanga Parbat is no less dangerous than crossing a sea. Should the regulators in Pakistan not mandate equipment that facilitates SAR? How could the insurance companies of the West overlook this?

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This incident bears few lessons:

  • Extrication and emergency planning should be as meticulous as the summit attempt itself. It is generally experienced that on declaration of the emergency the helicopter pilots are expected to do everything. They do it for sure, but a prior integration in planning and data share can turn the tables assuring much faster response. Today’s amazing technologies are not used to their optimum potential.
  • Garmin company may consider replaceable batteries, a G-sensor to trigger SOS automatically at a fall or a defined g-shock and a vitals sensor algorithmed to trigger SOS in case of incapacitation in next upgradation of InReach.
  • The assurance of transfer of data to the rescuing agency seamlessly in the shortest possible time automatically at the SOS trigger.
  • An Air Band communication set to be made mandatory for high altitude rescue coordination.
  • Rules of essential equipment for porters, high altitude porters as well as climbers be reviewed by the government of Pakistan and a minimum equipment list, ensuring safe execution of emergency response be mandated.

All this entails a separate Emergency Response System that registers, updates, tracks and maintains communication with all climbing parties. The technology is available today that can track one in near-real-time. The final approach has to be visual in any case and if above system can get the pilot within a few kms of the emergency site, rest can be taken care of safely.

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While there are excellent porters and climbers, certified rescuers are only a few in Pakistan. Many times climbers from camps nearby have to be requested to join as rescuers. Promising young porters may be trained as rescuers from abroad and employed mandatorily with climbing teams.

At the end, I would repeat accidents are not caused by a single factor. A number of factors join in one time and space to cause an accident. Whatever has happened has happened, let us now make an effort to prevent recurrence.

For more pieces related to Ali Sadpara, visit.

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