'Danger over' as frostbitten Italian reaches K2 base camp

09:59, 05 August 2008
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After an ice fall that killed 11 others

A frostbitten Italian climber limped into K2 base camp Tuesday after an ice fall that killed 11 others, but swirling cloud prevented helicopters plucking him from the world`s second highest peak, AFP informs.

Marco Confortola, believed to be the only survivor of Friday`s catastrophic avalanche, finally hobbled into the 5,200-metre (17,060-foot) camp with his toes blackened by exposure to sub-zero temperatures, officials said.

"The danger is over," said Ashraf Aman, head of mountaineering company Adventure Tours Pakistan, which has played a key role in rescue operations.

"Marco has reached the main base camp, he is recovering. The base camp has facilities to provide him with immediate medical help like oxygen and drugs, so he will improve gradually," Aman told AFP.

An Italy-based member of Confortola`s climbing team, Agostino Da Polenza, told Sky TG24 television that the mountaineer had reached base camp and was awaiting evacuation by helicopter.

Slowed by his frostbitten feet, the 37-year-old Confortola had spent four nights trying to reach base camp and was helped down by Pakistani high-altitude porters who managed to get to him on Monday.

But rescuers said they feared the choppers would not be able to take off at all on Tuesday because of storms and thick cloud around the mountain, which climbers regard as tougher and more dangerous to scale than Everest.

"I don`t think a rescue mission would be possible today," said Colonel Ilyas Mirza, a senior official of Askari Aviation, an army-linked company based in the northern town of Skardu that operates the rescue choppers.

"The weather is still bad, flying in Skardu and beyond was not possible this morning. Normally it takes two or three days to improve the weather in the area," Mirza told AFP.

But he said that the helicopters, specially equipped for high-altitude missions, remained on standby.

"Our helicopters are ready, waiting for an improvement in the situation. They may try to make an attempt this evening if the weather improves even for a few hours," he said.

"Such missions are quick. It may not take more than one or two hours to bring the climber down."

Army helicopters on Monday rescued two Dutch mountaineers from K2 . They tried to reach the Italian on Monday as well but were prevented by storms.

Three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis, a Serbian, an Irishman, a Norwegian and a Frenchman died in Friday`s avalanche, the worst disaster ever to happen on the mountain.

A pillar of ice broke away in a steep gully known as the Bottleneck near the summit and swept away fixed lines used by the mountaineers as they made their descent.

One Spanish mountaineer who saw the doomed climbers as he was heading down the peak said they may have begun their ascent too late in the day.

"They were far from me, hours away, but they were not turning around," Alberto Zerain told the online edition of Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

"But then I thought, they know what they are doing," said Zerain.

Italian climbers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli were the first to scale K2 on July 31, 1954. Between then and 2007, there were 284 successful ascents and 66 fatalities.

In the same period, Everest was summited 3,681 times, with 210 deaths.


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