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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 August 2005, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Race against time on 'Killer Mountain'
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Tomaz Humar
Tomaz Humar tried to keep himself warm by digging snow

Rescuers in Pakistan had almost given up on Slovenian climber Tomaz Humar, who was rescued after being trapped for six days on one of the highest peaks in the Himalayas.

There had been several aborted salvage attempts before he was finally rescued on Wednesday.

"When we set out this morning to try and lift Mr Humar off the ledge, frankly, I thought our chances for success were very bleak," said Col Rashidullah Beg, one of the six pilots involved in the rescue.

Mr Humar had been trapped by bad weather at about 6,000m (20,000ft) on a narrow ledge along the Rupal face of Nanga Parbat - the world's ninth highest peak and one of the most formidable mountains in the world.

The renowned Slovenian was taking a route never attempted before in the 52 years since Nanga Parbat was first scaled in 1953.

His solo climb was stopped by fierce winds and snowstorms, which forced him to abort the attempt on Friday. He remained trapped on a narrow ledge for six days.

'Hand of God'

"The mountain where he was stuck is not called the Killer Mountain for nothing," Col Beg said.

"It has a reputation of not only killing climbers but taking care of anyone who tries to do anything with it," he laughed, more out of relief than humour.

Nanga Parbat (photo:wilderness photo library)
Nanga Parbat is the world's ninth highest peak (Photo: John Noble/Wilderness Photo Library)
He said the team was not very hopeful as the ledge on which Mr Humar was trapped was "almost impossible to reach".

"It can only be described as the hand of God," he said. "We were just the means through which God gave Mr Humar a fresh lease of life."

By the time the rescue effort was in motion, Mr Humar had run out of food, the gas in his stove was almost gone and almost all four batteries for his radio had been exhausted.

Despite plummeting energy levels, the only way he could keep himself warm was by digging snow.

And even that was proving difficult as constant snowing was shrinking the space around the trapped climber.

Messages

Pakistan's top mountaineer Nazir Sabir - a friend of Mr Humar - said the only means of assessing the Slovenian's condition was through the short, periodic radio messages from the climber.

These messages were being relayed to Dr Anda Perdan, Mr Humar's physician for the last five years, who remained at the base camp throughout the drama.

Messages on Mr Humar's website and details gathered from the Alpine Club of Pakistan give an idea of the steady build up to the rescue.

The first indication that Mr Humar might not be able to climb down on his own came on Friday - his second day on the ledge.

The Islamabad met office said strong winds, rain and snow could continue into next week, prompting Mr Humar's expedition to explore the possibility of airlifting him off the ledge.

But they were told there was no privately-owned helicopter in Pakistan that could reach 6,000m.

A rescue helicopter organised from Switzerland would take at least until Tuesday to reach Pakistan.

Assistance was sought from the Pakistan army and two Lama helicopters were dispatched to attempt a rescue.

A smaller helicopter had photographed Mr Humar on the ledge but could do little else as the fierce winds around the Rupal face forced it to return to base.

The photographs, however, helped rescuers decide that the only way of getting Mr Humar off the ledge was to throw a rope to him which he could tie around himself.

He could then dangle from the aircraft all the way back to the camp.

Time running out

Monday was the first panic day. An early morning message from Mr Humar said he was "very cold, wet and afraid of frostbite".

The met office said Wednesday was likely to be the first clear day and the best chance for the rescuers.

If the weather stays like this, I won't be able to hold on for much longer ... it's pouring all over me and everything is freezing!
Tomaz Humar
"Another night awaits me. I'll be freezing, and I haven't eaten in days," was the message from Mr Humar.

He had had to dig his way out of an avalanche and his toes were turning blue.

With three army helicopters parked at the Jaglote camp near Nanga Parbat, Tuesday saw the worst of the weather.

Mr Humar's message said: "If the weather stays like this, I won't be able to hold on for much longer ... it's pouring all over me and everything is freezing!"

There were three failed attempts on Tuesday to reach him. The weather was so bad the helicopters could not even drop him food.

On Wednesday, the weather had started to improve despite persistent fog.

Those involved in the rescue said had Mr Humar not managed to grab hold of the rescue cable thrown to him for another few minutes, the helicopters might have had to return to base yet again.

As it turned out, the Swiss rescue team that reached Islamabad on Wednesday morning did not have to be deployed.

According to Mr Humar's friends, his "insanely good luck" had come to his rescue yet again in a career that has seen 1,500 ascents.

RESCUE FROM NANGA PARBAT
Pakistani Air Force Lama SA- 315B helicopter was used in the rescue
The helicopter is purpose-built to operate at high altitudes and holds the world record for the highest-ever helicopter flight at 12,441m
The 'copter can fly at 200km/h. Its maximum payload is 1,000kg




SEE ALSO:
Climber rescued from major peak
10 Aug 05 |  South Asia
Remembering climbing's unsung hero
02 Jul 03 |  South Asia
From mujahideen to mountain guide
07 Aug 05 |  South Asia


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