Helicopters Look for Kim, While Accusations Fly In Base Camp

Pakistani and Chinese military forces are searching for the body of Korean climber Kim HongBin. He fell while descending Broad Peak on Monday. Asked by ExplorersWeb whether the rescuers have any hope of finding him alive, Korean journalist Oh Young Hoon said, “Well, nobody has seen him dead.”

While the two countries collaborate in the air, accusations and bitterness fill Base Camp. Vitaly Lazo, who tried to rescue Kim, openly accuses climbers of passing by and ignoring the stranded climber for hours, not even sending an SOS to Base Camp.

The search operation

On Friday, bad weather grounded the search helicopters. But at 5:08 am Pakistan time today, Base Camp reported that the weather looked better than it had for days. Helicopters were just awaiting the green light to fly, Oh told ExplorersWeb.

“Three people from Base Camp will join the aerial search,” Oh said. “Vitaly Lazo, a Korean cameraman, and a leader of a commercial expedition.”

Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy in Seoul released a statement yesterday (July 23) reporting it had sent two helicopters to the northern base camp (at 5,000m) of Broad Peak.

“The Chinese rescue team reportedly includes nine individuals and a drone,” Oh said. “Because of bad weather, however, they seem to have not yet started.”

Unfortunately, both search missions are proceeding independently, with no communication between Base Camps on the two different sides of Broad Peak.

Two helicopters search Broad Peak. Photo: Oswald Rodrigo Pereira

Vitaly Lazo: I Accuse

Meanwhile, Vitaly Lazo posted a scathing message yesterday on social media. He wondered how it was possible that the first SOS call only went out after Kim had spent the entire night — over nine hours — stranded on a ledge at 8,000m.

“The desire to conquer the summit at any cost, at any time, led a large number of unskilled tourists (tourists, not climbers) to negotiate difficult terrain at night. The principle of turning around at the turn-around point does not apply to them. Thus, people create problems not only for themselves but for those around them,” Lazo said.

Anastasia (Nastya) Runova, who fell onto the same ledge, was able to climb back on the route with some help from Little Hussein, Mr. Kim’s porter. But Lazo was bewildered that at least 15 climbers ignored the disabled Kim. “Yes, it was dark, but the light of his headlamp was definitely visible,” Lazo pointed out.

“After saving the girl, Little Hussein wept, because he was so tired that he could not save Kim — he had no strength left. Hussein asked people to help, but all the ‘hero-climbers’ were exhausted and passed by.”

Lazo wrote: “I can accept that they had no strength to pull a disabled person out. BUT I don’t understand why it was impossible to report the accident by radio or via InReach!”

Then he accused Runova directly: “Anastasia, your InReach was working! Gentlemen, you used them! One could press the SOS button and leave the device with Kim, one could write that the disabled alpinist was on the Chinese side waiting for help.

Pathetic, not heroic

“Now on social networks, you are brave men and heroes, conquerors of an eight-thousander…And I will say that you are pathetic, insignificant people who do not care about human life.”

Lazo and his partner, Anton Pugovkin, eventually helped Runova when she was approaching Camp 3. In his report, Lazo insists that had they known, they would have gone straight to Kim instead of staying with Runova, who was walking down on her own.

The Russian team has published a complete report on Risk.ru with all the details of the incident and their attempt to help Kim: who was there, when, and what happened. Although parts are difficult to follow for non-Russian speakers, despite Google Translate, the account is perfectly coherent.

After the SOS, confusion

The alarm sounded early on the morning of July 19, after Runova was helped up from the ledge and back to Camp 3. According to Lazo, she didn’t tell Lazo and Pugovnik about Kim when they met. It was Kim’s porter who first shouted the alarm over the radio at about 4 am. Unfortunately, it made people think that the Korean climber had fallen into a crevasse below the saddle. The British climbers were sent to look in the wrong direction!

Kim himself was perfectly healthy and endured the night standing on the ledge, waving to people to get their attention. By the time Lazo found him, he was already worn out after a night on the ledge. He said that he was very tired and cold, but his mind was clear and he was still standing.

In a previous report, Oswald R. Pereira reported that he had been trying to help Runova when he saw someone in a black suit rappelling down to the ledge. He thought that it was someone who was trying to reach Runova.

According to Lazo’s account, Runova fell while clipped onto a rope. Kim told Lazo that he had rappelled down that rope, thinking that this was the route.

Kim’s final accident

Lazo set up a belay, but Kim insisted on jumaring himself up. To Lazo’s surprise, Kim started to do it successfully, despite his fingerless hands. However, at a certain point, Kim’s jumar jammed. Lazo had already climbed back up to the ridge but went partway back down again and shouted to Kim, who was about five metres below him. Kim apparently shook the jumar, probably trying to clear it of ice or switch it to another rope. He unclipped it, then fell down the face.

ExplorersWeb has asked the Koreans who was with Kim when the incident took place, and where was the rest of his team. “There are five other Korean climbers in the team, two of whom are camera staff,” Oh replied. “No Korean accompanied Kim on the summit climb.”

Kim’s Korean companions are currently in Base Camp. One of them will join the helicopter search. At least one high-altitude porter, Little Hussein, accompanied Kim on his summit attempt.

For the time being, searchers decline to consider Kim dead. “Of course, I guess those in Base Camp and those here in Korea may have different levels of hope,” Oh said. “It’s hard to say whether the hope is realistic or not. If no trace of Kim is found within a few days, we’ll need to discuss when and how to have his funeral.”

ExplorersWeb has also asked Anastasia Runova for her version of the events. We are awaiting her answer.