Federico Campanini - a story that should not die

Posted: Feb 27, 2009 03:35 pm EST

Mountain guide Federico Campanini, 31, and one of his clients (Elena Senin, 38) perished on Aconcagua around January 8 after their group summited via the normal route.

On descent, the mountaineers lost their way in a sudden storm and mistakenly descended the technical Polish route. Federico and Elena reportedly fell to their deaths, while the rest of the team was airlifted out.

Last week, a video posted on YouTube by Campanini's father showed Federico still alive at about 6500 meters/21,000 FT, surrounded by a group of rescuers/guides. The young guide is seen tied into a rope and dragged through the snow, crawling. The men are possibly cursing at him and one is asking for permission over radio to leave him behind, claiming that he has "no more than 40 minutes to live."

Heated feelings

The video has stirred heated feelings in the community. One veteran Everest, Himalaya, Denali and Aconcagua expedition leader told ExWeb he was not surprised, calling Aconcagua's rescue service "a joke." According to ExWeb's contributor in the area Rodrigo Ganzotto Peron, this past season has in fact provoked measures for SAR improvements on Aconcagua.

The group - some standing by idly, one approaching the camera, another talking over radio - has its defenders. Some claim that the rescue attempt was too high up to be possible at all. A Spanish speaking rock-climbing editor familiar with the area and the mountaineers involved told ExWeb that the group of two rescuers and four guides did not expect to have to carry the victim. They also would have had to bring him to the summit and then down the less technical normal route. The editor stated that the video shows only a few minutes of a 36 hours rescue; in the final moments when all in the party are exhausted.

The editor climbed Aconcagua many times himself and told ExWeb that he knows all involved personally, and that they would do anything to save a life.

It seems the mountaineers are cursing at the victim ("Hijo de Puta", "la concha de tu madre") and also state over radio that he will be dead in 40 minutes. The words - son of a bitch - are used commonly in the area, explains the editor, "itâs part of their way of talking."


Others are not convinced. Only in the past few years there have been a number of examples of rescues of immobilized climbers much higher up - on Everest, K2 (including the highly technical west face), Broad Peak, the Gasherbrums and other 8000ers - often performed by exhausted climbers (not rescue personnel).

Mountaineers perform first aid, manufacture makeshift stretches, and administer jolt-drugs: often it's enough to lower the victim 500-1000 meters for him to start walk on his own. Climbers also point out that in a rescue situation, as in an emergency room, how you talk to the victim (and about him) is vital to his chances of survival. As for plain decency, commented one high altitude mountaineer: "no one should have to die to such last words."

Will and preparation

Everyone seems to agree that the rescue service on Aconcagua has to be improved.

"As medical director of Expedition and Wilderness Medicine I've been involved in the care and rescue of explorers from most hazardous environments," wrote Dr Sean Hudson of UK Expedition and Wilderness Medicine to ExplorersWeb.

"Knowing little of the exact circumstances surrounding the attempted rescue of the unfortunate Italian gentleman it is hard to pass judgment. However I think I have yet to see such frank disregard for humanity or such poor preparation and use of resources."


Another letter, from a climber and geologist who did a lot of SAR in the Dolomites in the 70's states that the clip shows not only incompetence on the part of the involved but "worse, a total lack of interest for the consequences of their acts."

"Maybe I am biased because I used to know personally Elena Senin, but I suppose that actions like these must have some consequences," he wrote to ExWeb. "At least climbers should be made aware of the total carelessness of the SAR on Aconcagua."

"You covered the K2 events very well last year, and other similar in the past," he wrote, "I really think that you cannot bypass this story."

"Maybe it's a small story because it covers a less than 7000 m peak or because only minor people are involved. But remember the alpinist world is made up by a huge amount of 'normal' lovers of the mountains rather than the usual big names. Therefore, please do not let this story die, as Elena and Federico did."

Watch the video here.

Expedition Medicine is the leading provider of expedition and wilderness medicine training courses, both in the UK and also in a number of carefully selected overseas locations.

#Mountaineering #Medical #interview

A video posted on YouTube by Campanini's father showed Federico still alive at about 6500 meters/21,000 FT, surrounded by a group of rescuers/guides.

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