Winter Climbs 2019: Search for Missing Climbers on Nanga Parbat Begins

The search is on for missing climbers Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard. The two haven’t been seen or heard from since this past Sunday when they left from Camp 3 to make a summit push. For a time, it was thought that they had were simply out of communications range and that cloud cover was preventing the use of a satellite phone, but as each day passes concern for their safety grows.

Earlier today, the Pakistani government granted permission for a helicopter to fly to Nanga Parbat to begin the search. If you read my first post on this story yesterday, you probably already know that flights had been grounded as tension between India and Pakistan grows. Recently, India launched airstrikes inside the disputed region of Kashmir, crossing the so called “Line of Control” for the first time since 1971. Pakistan responded by shooting down two Indian planes and capturing one of the pilots. All of this led to a shutdown of the airspace over Pakistan, which prevented a helicopter from going to Nanga Parbat yesterday, potentially losing precious time.

Aboard the helicopter today was Pakistani mountaineer Ali Sadpara. He was part of the team that made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat a few years back, joining Simone Moro and Alex Txikon on that expedition. When the aircraft reached the mountain earlier today it made a number of sweeps searching for Nardi and Ballard, but so far there have been no signs of them. Sadpara was dropped off at Base Camp while the helicopter return to a nearby airport to get refueled. It is expected to return and continue search and rescue operations as long as the weather and daylight holds out.

For his part, Sadpara is preparing to go up the mountain to search for the missing men. Unfortunately, he isn’t acclimated to the altitude, which could slow progress and prevent him from going too high. There has been some discussion of bringing climbers over from K2 to assist in the search, as there are two very strong teams there that are acclimated. However, poor weather around that mountain has kept helicopters from approaching Base Camp to pick up anyone.

This story is an eerie mirror to last year’s events, which saw two climbers go missing on Nanga Parbat as well. At that time, Tomek Mackiwicz and Elisabeth Revol were attempting a winter ascent of Nanga Parbat and ran into trouble at altitude. Climbers from K2 had to be flown over to perform a rescue, as they were able to get Revol safely down the mountain. Unfortunately, Mackiwicz perished higher up.

Hopefully this situation will have a happier ending. There is still hope that Nardi and Ballard are somewhere safe, high up on the mountain. But with each passing hour things looks a bit more grim. Lets keep our fingers crossed that they’ll be found alive and well. I’ll post more updates as the news breaks.

Kraig Becker