Broad Peak: What Happened After Sharif Sadpara Died?

There remain many unanswered questions surrounding the death of Sharif Sadpara on Broad Peak on July 5, especially about the reaction of other climbers and the later search-and-rescue operation.

Who was Sharif Sadpara?

Sharif Sadpara was an experienced local climber, working as a high-altitude porter for the UK’s Impact Ascents. Company founders Pete Brittlenton and Paul Etheridge led the team. Sadpara had participated in previous expeditions and also took part in rescue missions with the military on the Siachen Glacier. He was the father of five children.

Sharif Sadpara. Photo: @teamalisadpara

 

On the morning of July 5, Sharif Sadpara perished when the snow platform that he stood on, probably a cornice, collapsed. He fell down the Chinese side of the mountain into a 2,000m void.

The accident took place at some point along the summit ridge, while Sadpara was waiting for the rope-fixing team to proceed. The rest of Impact Ascents team was there, as well as some members of the Furtenbach Adventures team. One of the Furtenbach group, Michael Lutz, reported that dawn had come some time before 4 am. The accident took place about an hour later.

Climbers wait where the ropes stopped and Sharif Sadpara fell. Photo: Michael Lutz

 

The climbers had reached Broad Peak’s col at 7,900m and proceeded along the ridge for some way. They might have been at around 8,000m. The weather had turned for the worse, with wet snowfall, increasing wind, and poor visibility.

“In that storm, I didn’t dare to go any further without ropes,” Lutz wrote to explain why he was waiting. Furtenbach guide Ulises Corvalan also reported soft, unstable snow all the way. Czech climber Piotr Ekk, who was in Camp 3 (7,000m) that day, wrote that they had not snow, but rain! at that altitude that evening. Ekk also states that only two people have summited Broad Peak so far this season: Giuseppe Vitoni of Italy and Nicolas Jean of France on July 4.

Lutz and Ulises Corvalan saw Sadpara fall. The Furtenbach team reported that they checked that the climber had disappeared into the void and that there was no chance that he could have survived. They immediately reported the accident and, given the circumstances, decided to turn around and return to Camp 3. As far as they know, no one continued to the summit that day.

Broad Peak summit ridge last year. Photo: Vitaly Lazo

What about Sadpara’s own team?

Surprisingly, Impact Ascents admitted to the accident, but only after claiming that they had summited.

“On the 5th July 2022 at 05:14 the five members of Impact Ascents summited Broad Peak, becoming the first team in 2022 to do so,” stated the report on the company’s website.

Later on, they mentioned that “at a height of 8,020m, a freak accident occurred and Sharif Sadpara lost his life.” They do not specify whether the accident took place before or after the team allegedly summited. There are neither details of the ascent or summit pictures so far.

Here is a screenshot from the report on IA’s website:

 

Their summit claim is unclear for the following reasons: There were no ropes on the ridge, the weather was bad, and no one on the mountain had heard of any summits other than by the two who topped out on July 4.

Also, the summit ridge of Broad Peak is tricky, with long ups and downs and several high points on the way. Many teams stop well short of the actual summit, whether on purpose or not. We asked Impact Ascents yesterday for further details and photos of their summit and we are waiting for them to reply.

Piotr Ekk of the Czech Republic, who was in Camp 3, reported that the weather turned very bad on the afternoon of July 5, with lots of rain and a rising wind. He also wrote that “a dozen climbers attempted to reach the summit on July 4 and July 5 — only two of them summited.” Saulius Damulevicius, also in C3, likewise reports only those same two summits: those of Giuseppe Vidoni and Nicolas Jean on July 4.

In addition, there is an ethical dilemma here. The Furtenbach team is sure that Impact Ascents members were behind them that morning. So if Impact Ascents did proceed to the summit, it was after the accident had occurred. Lukas Furtenbach told ExplorersWeb that after the accident, “everybody”, as far as he knew, had aborted the summit push.

Impact Ascents stated that they summited at 05:14 but they never mentioned if it was a.m. or p.m. It is possible that the British team had continued their ascent after Sharif, who they described as an “integral part of the team…bringing his professionalism and experience in all that he did,” fell to his death. This would raise ethical issues about the team’s priorities.

A member of the Impact Ascent team on Broad Peak. Photo: Impact Ascents social media

 

On Sunday, the team posted a minor correction to their previous report, stating that since Vidoni and Jean summited on July 4, they were not the first to summit Broad Peak this year after all. The site still confirms its previous summit claim. It mentions that two members have decided to return home but the rest will proceed to K2.

Search and rescue or ‘publicity stunt’?

There is a final question in this whole sad issue. Brittlenton and Etheridge have criticized the supposed aerial search-and-rescue mission.

“Yesterday, we had volunteered to lead the search and recovery of Sharif’s body, [at the] request of his family,” they wrote.

This explains the “rescue” references that appeared in the local press one day after Sadpara fell. While the climbers at the site of the accident insisted that Sadpara had fallen into the void beyond any possibility of survival, it seems that his family members were not convinced. They appealed for a search-and-rescue mission.

Helicopters search on Broad Peak in 2021. Photo: Oswald Rodrigo Pereira

 

Brittlenton and Etheridge, who were to join this search, had reportedly planned for several options. They presumed that they would land to retrieve the body or rappel from a cable. Afterward, they were disappointed. They felt that the pilots just went through the motions of looking. Below, an excerpt of what Paul Etheridge wrote about the operation. (Read the whole text here)

As soon as we knew we were over the Chinese border, we studied every dark spot, every rock, anything what would give some indication of what we were looking for…As time went by and the helicopter struggled to get much higher than 6,800m, I started questioning the pilots: “Why are we not going closer?”…Then it hit me…The family wanted a recovery attempt, the army wanted to be seen to do something and of course this was that something…We were literally looking for a tiny speck of red amongst 1000s of square metres of ice and snow from 200-300m away, in a wobbly helicopter. It was bloody pointless, it was heartbreaking. Pete and I had planned, planned and planned again as to what we were going to do, just to helplessly sit there staring through windows…We returned to base camp with nothing to report, nothing to our staff, nothing to Sharif’s friends, nothing. A sickening feeling came over us, we were just a publicity stunt.

 

While scouting a mountain face is frustrating, their take on the rescue could have been the result of a misunderstanding. The British did not speak to the pilots, who were in oxygen masks when they picked up the two British guides in Base Camp. Presumably, Brittlenton and Etheridge were not briefed on the details of the search.

Looking over a mountain from some distance is benign enough, but putting two British nationals into Chinese territory — for Sadpara fell down the Chinese side — is quite different. In Pakistan, military pilots perform the rescues. While China-Pakistan bilateral relations are good overall, the geopolitical situation is delicate. Such a flight into Chinese air space would clearly require some diplomatic approval. Obtaining permission to land foreign nationals on Chinese soil would be far more complicated.

The precedent: Kim HongBin’s death in 2021

In a somewhat similar case last year, Kim Hongbin died in a fall from the ridge on Broad Peak. He too fell into China, triggering a search, but there are some important differences. Kim didn’t fall into the void. He was initially clipped to a fixed rope, along with another climber, Nastya Runova. Both were stranded on a narrow ledge, still attached to the rope.

While Runova was rescued, Kim remained on the ledge for over 24 hours. Russian skier Vitali Lazo was the last to see him alive and tried to rescue him. Despite Lazo’s warnings, Kim tried to save himself. While maneuvering with the jumar and ropes, unclipping temporarily, he fell. Kim was a disabled climber who lost all his fingers to frostbite on an earlier expedition.

Sources in South Korea told ExplorersWeb that Pakistan and China attempted to launch a joint rescue operation after a plea from South Korea. Pakistani pilots scouted the face from the air, while a Chinese team looked from the ground. During the flight, with Lazo in the helicopter, they scouted the face as they did this year. There were likewise no results.

Vitali Lazo and Kim HongBin. Photo: Vitali Lazo

 

That episode also featured controversy, a lack of transparency, and accusations from all parties. The accident involved too many inexperienced climbers on the ridge too late in the day. None of them tried to rescue Kim. In a hard article published on Risk.ru, Vitali Lazo asked rhetorically if any morality remained in the mountains. He decided not.

In this case, Sadpara fell without a rope, and the free fall killed him instantly.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides is a college-graduated journalist specialised on high-altitude mountaineer and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporates, press manager and communication executive,and a published author.