Sad news from the Himalaya today, where it was revealed that a liaison officer working with the only winter expedition to Mt. Everest has passed away due to altitude sickness. The government official was airlifted to Lukla via an emergency helicopter flight, but all efforts too save him proved fruitless.
According to The Himalayan Times, Padam Jung Rai was the liaison officer assigned to support Alex Txikon and Carlos Rubio in their efforts to summit Everest this winter. As required by law, Rai traveled with the climbers to the Khumbu region of Nepal to monitor the team’s progress on the mountain and facilitate communications between them and government officials back in Kathmandu. But, the LO took ill while in Lobouche, and was assisted by a group of Sherpas in his descent down to Tukla at 4000 meters (13,123 ft) where it was hoped that his symptoms would subside. When he took a turn for the worse, a helicopter was dispatched to retrieve Rai, who was flown to Lukla for emergency treatment, which was ineffective.
As part of the climbing requirements on the higher mountains in Nepal, teams are required to pay a $3000 fee to cover the expenses of having a liaison officer with them in Base Camp. That officer’s job is to ensure that climbers follow all of the rules and regulations set down by the Nepali government, and to facilitate any needs that might arise. The LO’s are often criticized for never leaving Kathmandu however, which has caused some issues in recent years.
Rai was sent to Everest to work with Txikon and Rubio, the first winter expedition to that mountain in years. Conditions are of course more demanding during that harsh season, although it is unclear if that played a role in his death.
Meanwhile, the two Spanish climbers are back in Base Camp after having climbed as high as Camp 2 on the mountain. They are resting comfortably, regaining their strength and preparing for their next rotation up the mountain. Txikon is hoping to summit Everest during the winter without the uses of supplemental oxygen, something that has only been done very rarely in the past. So far, the expedition is proceeding well, although weather conditions will ultimately dictate success or failure.
My condolences go out to the friends and family of Padam Jung Rai. Hopefully, the rest of the expedition will proceed safely.
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