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K2: Rescues and Fatalities

Italian climber Marco Confortola, the last survivor of the K2 disaster, has been evacuated from K2 base camp with severe frostbite. On August 1, 2008, a massive amount of ice broke free in a section known as the Bottleneck, sweeping some climbers from the mountain, and stranding others just below the 8611m summit. (Read the August 4 and August 5 NewsWires following the tragedy.) In total, eleven climbers perished on the peak.

Confortola’s account of the disaster confirms what Dutch survivor Wilco van Rooijen originally said–poor equipment, sloppiness and inexperience were all factors in the disaster. “What happened on K2 was the result of many things, one of which was bad luck,” he explained to an Italian news agency. “There was also some sloppiness. A 656-foot rope, very light but strong… was not brought by a somewhat sloppy porter, which was just the beginning of the problems.” Confortola claims that the first death of the day, a Serbian climber, resulted from the mediocrity of the equipment.

He also recalls that difficulties with equipment caused delays, which in turn held the expedition at a standstill for an hour and a half beneath a massive serac in the Bottleneck. Van Rooijen confirmed that poorly set lines that required replacement caused delays, contributing to the accumulation of people in the Bottleneck just prior to the avalanche.

Confortola recalls a loud boom and a second avalanche following the initial serac collapse. After attempting to assist the three stranded Koreans, “I couldn’t take it anymore, I descended alone,” he explained. “The descent was devastating, especially the last part. But the worst moment was seeing the boots of… my friend [stuck in the ice].”

Two Dutch climbers, Confortola and Pemba Sherpa were able to descend the mountain safely in the wake of the disaster. However, eleven climbers were not so fortunate. Pakistan’s Ministry of Tourism has released the list of those that perished on K2:

Dren Mandic, Serbian climber, is believed to have been the first fatality of the day. The cause of his death is not yet confirmed, but it is known that he died during the ascent.

Jehan Baig, Pakistani porter, is believied to have fallen during the recovery of Mandic’s body. Another Pakistani porter, Meherban Karim, also fell, but after the avalanche.

Three Korean climbers–Kim Hyo-Gyeong, Park Kyeong-Hyo, and Hwang Dong-Jin–died in the aftermath of the Serac fall, after reportedly refusing assistance from Dutch, Nepalese and Italian climbers.

Norwegian Rolf Bae was reportedly swept away by the initial avalanche as well.

Jumic Bhote and Pasang Bhote, both Nepalese, both perished; the former is believed to have been trapped in the Bottleneck when the rope was sliced by falling ice, the latter is thought to have perished after the avalanche, perhaps in the course of rescue efforts.

The first Irishman to summit K2, Gerard McDonnell, and French Jean Louis Hugues D’Aubarede perished in the aftermath of the avalanche.

K2, the world’s second highest peak, attracts climbers each summer. Since its first ascent in 1954 by Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, upward of 200 people have reached K2’s summit. While the fatality rate on the peak is remarkably high, this likely marks the highest death toll in a single event on K2–surpassing the 1995 storm in which seven climbers died.

Government officials in Islamabad are preparing to launch an investigation into the tragedy.