August 5, 2008

Pakistani Military Raises Toll in Accident Atop K2

By Jane Perlez and Salman Masood

Michael Wilson contributed reporting from New York.


At least 11 climbers died on K2, the world's second-highest mountain, after an avalanche struck them on a steep gully at a height of about 8,200 meters, just below the summit, the Pakistani military said Monday.

Three of those killed were Nepalese, three were South Korean, two were Pakistani, one was Spanish, one was French and one was Irish, a military spokesman, Major Farooq Feroz Khan, said by telephone.

Serbian, Norwegian and Dutch climbers were also near the summit, according to ARY, a Pakistani television station. Others are believed to be missing.

The Pakistani military began a rescue operation early Monday, using two helicopters.

"Two Dutch climbers were rescued today from the base camp," Khan said. "They are in an injured condition and very afraid." Three other injured survivors were in stable condition, he said.

"Four climbers are still coming down," Khan said, adding that one was an Italian who was in critical condition and was to be brought out Tuesday.

The mountaineers were still at a high altitude, which made it difficult to reach them with helicopters, Khan said.

Twenty climbers set out on the expedition July 28 and were coming down when the avalanche struck, he said. A chunk of an ice pillar snapped Friday, breaking fixed ropes on the area of the peak just below the summit, known as Bottleneck, expedition organizers said. A South Korean team was on its way down from the top, according to Ghulam Mohammad, the owner of Blue Sky Tours and Travels.

Several expeditions were on the mountain over the weekend, and some reports had said a dozen climbers were stranded at Bottleneck, a region known as the Death Zone because climbers' bodies begin suffering from a lack of oxygen at such a high altitude. Climbers stuck above Bottleneck would be unable to descend because of the broken ropes, according to expedition organizers.

K2, a peak in northern Pakistan near the border with China, is considered the most challenging mountain for climbers, even more so than the higher Mount Everest. K2 is the world's second highest mountain, after Everest, at 8,614 meters, or 28,262 feet.

Bottleneck is known as the most dangerous spot on K2.

The fatality rate for those who reach the summit is three times higher than on Mount Everest, according to mountaineering records.

One hope for the climbers stuck above Bottleneck would be for them to try to climb down on the Chinese side of the mountain, the climber Reinhold Messner told the BBC. He described their situation as "very critical."

Another climber, Tom Sjogren, who works with a news service that tracks expeditions,, said in New York that in the initial confusion after a major accident high on a mountain, people were sometimes presumed dead when they managed to survive.

"If there are any survivors up there, they are pretty much on their own," he said of the climbers near the summit of K2. "It's very likely that these people are dead, but small miracles happen all the time in the mountains."

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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