Pakistani military helicopters search for missing climbers

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani military helicopters took off yesterday with four Spanish rescuers to search for a missing pair of European climbers on Nanga Parbat, the world’s ninth highest mountain.

Italian Daniele Nardi and Briton Tom Ballard, whose mother died on K2 in 1995, have been missing for a week on the summit known as ‘Killer Mountain’.

Bad weather had foiled search plans last Sunday but as the skies cleared yesterday, two military helicopters took off from the northern town of Skardu with four Spanish rescuers onboard.

Secretary of the Alpine Club of Pakistan Karrar Haidri said Spaniard Alex Txikon and his three colleagues, including a physician, would try and help find the missing climbers.

They will join Pakistani mountaineer Ali Sadpara who is already at base camp waiting for the search to begin, Haidri said, adding that he hopes the improved weather would allow the team to undertake the search during the day.

“Hopefully we will find them,” Haidri told The Associated Press. “It’s very difficult to survive in that condition and it’s a big challenge for a mountaineer to climb in winter.”

Rescuers also plan to use a drone in their search efforts amid the harsh winter weather, Haidri said.

Italian Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo, who has been following the search, tweeted yesterday that the army helicopters took off from Skardu to drop Txikon and the rescue team at Camp-1 on Nanga Parbat.

The diplomat later tweeted that the team reached Camp 1 and was setting up necessary equipment to fly the recon drones as visibility was good.

Despite being dubbed ‘Killer Mountain’ because of its dangerous conditions, the summit of Nanga Parbat has long drawn thrill-seeking climbers. Located in Pakistan’s Gilgit Baltistan area, it is the ninth highest mountain in the world with height of 8,126 metres.

Nardi and Ballard set out on the climb on February 22, making it to the fourth base camp by the following day.

The pair last made contact on February 24 from around an elevation of some 6,300 metres on Nanga Parbat.

Pakistan dispatched search helicopters last week despite the closure of its airspace amid tensions with neighbouring India over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir but did not manage to find the climbers.

Sadpara, who joined the search team, saw a snow-covered tent of the climbers last Thursday. Nardi’s team had said in a Facebook post that traces of an avalanche were evident in the area.

Nardi, 42, from near Rome, has attempted the Nanga Parbat summit in winter several times in the past. Ballard, 30, is the son of British climber Alison Hargreaves, the first woman to scale Mount Everest alone. She died at age 33 while descending the summit of K2. Ballard in 2015 became the first person ever to solo climb all six major north faces of the Alps in one winter.