South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Pakistan Army’s Successful Rescue Operation for French and Polish Mountaineers
Sajjad Shaukat

In the recent past, Pakistan Army (Askari Aviation) conducted a successful rescue operation to save the lives of the French and Polish mountaineers. But, ignoring the ground realties at the Nanga Parbat, some media persons negatively projected the efforts of the Army.

First of all, it is notable that Nanga Parbat, in northern Pakistan, is the world’s ninth-highest mountain at 26,660 feet. It earned the nickname “killer mountain” after more than 30 climbers died trying to climb it before the first successful summit in 1953.

In July, last year, a Spaniard and an Argentinean were presumed dead, after they went missing while trying to summit Nanga Parbat. The first winter ascent of the mountain was only managed in 2016.

However, the statement of the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said on January 28, this year that the Pakistan Army has launched a rescue operation to find the two climbers trying to scale Nanga Parbat who have been missing since January 26, 2018.

ISPR statement elaborated: “Two army helicopters, carrying four rescuers, are undertaking the rescue mission…concerned embassies had requested the Pakistan Army to launch an operation to rescue two foreign mountaineers.”

According to the Secretary of the Alpine Federation of Pakistan, Karrar Haidri, “The climbers have been picked up from K2 and were taken to Skardu where the helicopters will refuel before heading to Nanga Parbat.”

French climber Elisabeth Revol and Polish mountaineer Tomek Mackiewicz, who were attempting to scale the 8,126 meters got stuck at an altitude of 7,400 meter. Mackiewicz, who has attempted to climb the ninth highest mountain in the world on six previous occasions, suffered snow blindness and frostbite.

Revol then had to bring Mackiewicz to a safe point before heading lower herself. According to her tracker, she was at 6,670 meters.

Climber Tomek Mazur posted on microblogging site Twitter that in the morning of January 28, this year, Revol had sent a message stating that the toes in her left foot were frostbitten—Her position was also confirmed by the Nanga Parbat base camp who spotted her on a telescope.

On January 29, 2018, word came that Mackiewicz was in critical condition, while the duo was trapped at high altitude.

Janusz Majer, a Polish climber who was with a team of mountaineers from Poland wrote in a Facebook post that they attempted “to make history of their own by becoming the first to scale K2—the world’s second tallest mountain—in winter…Revol and Mackiewicz got stuck at around 7,400 metres and had to spend the night there.

British mountaineer Masah Gordon, who was in touch with Revol’s family, later posted on
Facebook that the French mountaineer had managed to bring Mackiewicz who had suffered from snow blindness and frostbite and was in critical condition—down to at least 7238 meters. There were conflicting reports whether he was in a tent or not.”

Revol, Gordon wrote, was “continuing further down along the Kinshofer route to around 6670 meters—where she had last made contact with her team. The issue with her [Revol’s] descent is that she has no tent and is coming down the most direct route but the one they did not use on the way up,” while referring to “how there would not be any fixed ropes for them.”

As Revol and Mackiewicz families and teams became aware of the situation on the mountain, they contacted local authorities to mount a rescue. However, the authorities require an upfront payment for the rescue effort.

Gordon wrote on the GOFUNDMe page, set up to raise money for the rescue, “The upfront rescue cost is estimated at $50,000…The target was soon crossed and around 56,000 euros had been raised within six hours.”

Meanwhile, a statement issued by the Polish foreign ministry said that after receiving information about the terms of assistance provided by local entities, Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz in agreement with the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki decided to immediately mobilise financial resources to cover transport costs as part of a rescue operation.

Secretary of the Alpine Federation of Pakistan Secretary Haidri was optimistic about the chances of the two climbers surviving, even as he admitted that the weather was quite bad on the mountain.

In this connection, he pointed out: “While there is less chance of an avalanche in winter, there is extreme weather to deal with such as extremely low temperatures and winds which can reach up to 100 km/h, which pose the biggest threat…extreme weather and with little supplies, climbers had a survival window of 30-40 hours.”

It is notable that Mackiewicz had been attempting to climb the 8,126meter mountain for nearly eight years, Revol has been trying for nearly five. Each time, though, the mountain has thwarted them one way or the other.

Nevertheless, Pakistan military helicopters circling the treacherous Killer Mountain were able to spot a French woman climber who left behind her injured Polish partner to seek help.

Elisabeth Revol was rescued by an elite group of Polish climbers who scaled part of the 26,660 feet mountain Nanga Parbat in darkness to reach her.

They were unable to reach a second climber, Polish national Tomek (Tomasz) Mackiewicz, however, making the “terrible and painful” decision to leave him behind.
In his departure message which was shared by the Alpine Club of Pakistan, Revol remarked: “Good bye Pakistan. I will come again to climb mountains of Pakistan but not Nanga Parbat…Thanks to all official(s) including Pakistan Army, Alpine Club of Pakistan and local authorities.

It is mentionable that in the cyber-age, online information and interaction of peoples by the developed and the less developed countries have further increased the importance of media. Media tools which include TV channels, newspapers and websites have the power to mould peoples’ views in positive or negative sense.

In this regard, it is regrettable that some foreign media manipulated the rescue operation as part of the propaganda campaign against Pakistan Army. And some Pakistan’s media entities also projected the rescue mission in negative sense.

In this respect, a blog under the caption, “Nanga Parbat: Revol’s anger after the rescue” published by the German TV DW on February 18, 2018 wrote: We could have saved Tomek. With this sentence, the French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol has triggered a debate. Could her Polish rope partner Tomek Mackiewicz still be alive, whom, suffering from severe high altitude sickness and slowblindness after their summit success on Nanga Parbat…It’s a race against the clock when you set off a rescue, Elisabeth said at a press conference…It took, in fact, 48 hours for something to happen. So clearly I have a lot of anger inside of me…and Tomek could have been saved if it had been a real rescue carried out in time and organized…The anger directed neither against the climbers of the Polish K2 winter expedition, who had ascended in high speed and brought her back to safety, nor against the helicopter pilots, but against the Pakistani organizers of the rescue operation…The government of Gilgit-Baltistan province has set up a commission to investigate the allegations…Compared to Nepal, where helicopter rescue from the highest mountains is privately organized and now works with Western support quite professionally, Pakistan still lags behind. The Pakistani military has been strictly controlling the air traffic in the Northern Areas due to the tensions with India lasting for decades. Rescue Operations are conducted by Askari Aviation, a subsidiary of the Army Welfare Trust. The helicopters are provided by the army and flown by former air force pilots.”

While, a Singapore-based multimedia website The Sraits Times also gave twists to the ground realities and facts in order to give negative projection to the rescue mission, conducted by the Pakistan Army in connection with the mountain-climbers. It is misfortune of Pakistan that country’s some media persons also spoke in the tone of foreign media.

These media propagandists neglect the difficulties such as weather factor, heavy snows and other related problems which created obstacles in the rescue operation. They also neglected statement of Alpine Federation of Pakistan’s Secretary Karrar Haidri and the departure message of Revol, as already mentioned.

Besides, it is also brought to the notice of the propagandists that the maximum height helicopters can reach is 6,000 metres—after which point the air gets too thin to fly.
Moreover, in the last June, Spanish alpinist Alberto Zerain and Argentinian Mariano Galvan had gone went missing while attempting to summit the “Killer Mountain”. A search was launched for them, but it was believed that they had been buried under an avalanche.

Nonetheless, despite natural obstacles, Pakistan Army conducted a successful rescue operation for French and Polish Mountaineers, thus, there personnel performed a commendable task.