Avalanche risk ends Russian mountaineers’ assistance in British climber search

Russian mountaineers have been ruled out of assisting the searches for a British climber missing on a mountain in Pakistan due to avalanche risk.

Tom Ballard from Derbyshire, whose mother died on K2 in 1995, was reported missing on Nanga Parbat earlier this week.

He had been climbing the peak, nicknamed Killer Mountain, with Italian Daniele Nardi and the pair were making an ascent before losing contact.

Plans for an initial search operation were prevented on Thursday when Pakistan closed its air space after it shot down two Indian military planes, but two army helicopters were eventually drafted in.

Russian mountaineers on K2 offered to support the rescue mission on Friday, with flights scheduled after an agreement was reached with the Italian embassy and the Pakistani air force.

A statement on Mr Mardi’s official Facebook page, posted in Italian, said an avalanche risk meant “it is better to proceed to research with sophisticated electronic flight systems”.

Ancora nessuna notizia di Daniele Nardi e Tom Ballard. Le operazioni di soccorso sono proseguite sul piano organizzativo…

Posted by Daniele Nardi on Thursday, February 28, 2019

The statement said: “The rescue operations continued on the organisational plan during the night in close contact with the embassy, ​​which with the support of the Pakistani Army is operating to obtain all the permits to take off the helicopters.

“The concerted plan provides for the withdrawal of the Basque alpinist Alex Txikon with three of his collaborators, including a doctor, from the K2 base camp to transport them to the Nanga Base Camp and then in a position closer to the Diamir wall in the direction of field 1.

“From there Txikon will activate three drones of special power for the flight in altitude and autonomy that will patrol all the area of ​​Sperone Mummery, up to the plateau above and along all the hypothetical paths passable by the two mountaineers who are still searching.

“The Russian team at K2 that offered to intervene, in agreement with the organisers, decided to give up because of the high avalanche risk on the Nanga.

“So it is better to proceed to research with sophisticated electronic flight systems.

“The weather, although worsened by yesterday is still sufficiently good to move with helicopters.

“Flight authorisation is awaited as Pakistani air space is still closed due to military turbulence in relations between Pakistan and India.

“Ambassador Pontecorvo is in constant contact with the General Staff of the Pakistani Air Force and with the organisation of relief efforts.”

Temperatures on the mountain are said to be at least -40C, with winds ranging from 120mph to 200mph.

A snow-filled tent had also been spotted on the 8,126-metre (26,660ft) mountain, with Mr Ballard and Mr Nardi last making contact from 6,300m (20,669ft) up the mountain on Sunday.

Mr Ballard moved to Scotland in the same year his mother, Alison Hargreaves, died on K2 when she was 33.

Ballard/Hargreaves family
Ballard/Hargreaves family

Sandy Allan, a family friend of Mr Ballard’s from Newtonmore in the Highlands, has climbed Nanga Parbat twice and spoke of the conditions facing the pair.

He told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland: “I’m a little bit worried but he’s a really competent mountaineer.

“I knew Tom when he was younger and I’d climbed with him and his mother, Tom’s an exceptional climber, he’s not done a great deal in the Himalayas but he’s done enough to know how to look after himself very well.

“He’s a really nice person, him and his sister and his whole family are really nice.

“Some people thought Tom was a little bit of a loner but he climbed to a very high standard and I suppose a lot of his routes were quite esoteric.

“But he’s a normal human being with a passion for climbing.

“It’s got a reputation for being a very dangerous mountain but if you’re a mountaineer it’s a super place to go.

“It’s a lot colder and that makes it incredibly uncomfortable but if you’re a climber like Tom was it’s one of the big challenges for people to do so I can understand why he’d want to go there.”