Himalaya Spring 2019: Daring Rescue of Missing Climber on Annapurna

If you’ve been reading my updates from the Himalaya over the past few days you probably already know that on Wednesday a Malaysian climber named Wui Kin Chin went missing on Annapurna.

Yesterday however it was revealed that Kin Chin had been located above Camp 4 on that mountain, but at the time of the update a search and rescue team was still on its way to reach him. Today, we have an update on the missing climber’s condition and some details on the daring rescue mission that brought him safely down.

It should be noted that at this time, Kin Chin remains in critical condition and is suffering from server frostbite. Even though he is off the mountain and safely at Nepal Mediciti Hospital in Kathmandu, he is far from out of the woods just yet.

Thankfully he is receiving treatment and is under the care of trained professionals, but the extent of his injuries hasn’t been known. We’ll have to continue keeping our fingers crossed as he goes through what is sure to be a painful and long recovery period.

What we do know is this: Yesterday a helicopter operated by Simrik Air spotted Kin Chin from the air on a morning flyover to look for the missing man. The climber spotted the helicopter as well and waved his arms to get its attention.

Unable to land at 7500 meters (24,606 ft) the chopper descended to inform the Seven Summit Treks team that he had located their teammate. From there, four mountaineers sprang into action preparing to go up and assist Kin Chin in descending to Camp 3 where he could be picked up by helicopter.

It took a bit of time and effort to get organized and ready to go, but by mid-afternoon Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Galgen Sherpa and Gesman Tamang were on their way up to C3 by helicopter. When they reached that point the winds were too strong to land, so they had to rappel down a rope to reach the ground. Once they were safely in place, they started up the mountain.

It took the search and rescue team five hours to reach Kin Chin’s position above C4. When they got there, they discovered that the frostbite had disabled his arms and legs, unsurprisingly leaving him unable to move under his own power. At that point he had spent 43 hours exposed and alone on the mountain without food, water, or bottled oxygen. The fact that he was alive at all is extraordinary.

After reaching the missing climber, the other four mountaineers provided food and water before loading him up on a sled and starting back down the hill. They reached Camp 3 overnight, but while there Kin Chin’s condition worsened.

The team called for a helicopter to come pick him up, but do to conditions at the site it took four landing attempts before the chopper could set down. Once it had, the team loaded the Malaysian climber onto the aircraft, which immediately few to Kathmandu to deliver him to the hospital.

As you can probably imagine, the rescue effort was an extraordinary feat in and of itself. Several of those men had already climbed Annapurna earlier in the week, and yet were tasked with going back up the mountain a few days later to bring Kin Chin down. That is a testament to how strong of climbers they are.

A special nod goes to Nims Purja, who is attempting to summit all 14 8000-meter peaks in a single year. Annapurna was the first of those climbs and by attempting a rescue he could have put his own plans in jeopardy. But, he didn’t hesitate to jump into the action knowing full well that a man’s life was on the line. Great job on the part of all involved with the search and rescue effort.

Two things of note from this story. Kin Chin was part of a successful team of 31 climbers who reached the summit on Wednesday, but on the descent he was exhausted, unable to keep pace, and soon could barely move at all. It was at this point that his own guide abandoned him on Annapurna.

There are sure to be those who question that decision, and rightfully so. But not being there ourselves it is easy to second guess that call. High up on an 8000-meter peak there is little room for error and very little margin for helping another climber get down. This is a sad fact of high altitude mountaineering at times, even in the 21st century.

The other worrisome part of this story is that Kin Chin used Global Rescue as his provider of medical and evacuation insurance. According to the initial story two days ago, the company was alerted to the situation and the Seven Summit Treks team was working with them to coordinate search efforts.

Today it was revealed by one of the helicopter pilots involved with locating the Malaysian climber that “Global rescue declined to activate a rescue mission on Wednesday.” In fact, there was very little being done to try to find Kin Chin until his wife called from Singapore and requested that a search be conducted at any cost. Once that was revealed, the SAR team sprung into action.

Obviously Global Rescue probably has their own side of the story and it would be interesting to hear their explanation. Still, if this is true, it would be a bit disturbing to have your evacuation insurance provider decline to help in your rescue. Hopefully we’ll hear more about that at a later date, but lest we forget that Nepal is the home of the “fake rescue” scam, which clearly wasn’t the case here.

That’s the latest on this story. Hopefully Kin Chin will be able to recover from the frostbite and not have to give up any digits or limbs. Unfortunately, that isn’t often the case in these types of stories, but we can hope for the best moving forward. Hopefully we don’t see too many other incidents like this one as the rest of the season progresses.

Kraig Becker