Nanga Parbat Update: No Sign of Climbers, Avalanche Risk too High for Searchers

March 2, 2019: This article has been updated to reflect that drones have previously been used in high mountain rescues.

Little good news emerged from Nanga Parbat today. There has been no sign of Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard, who were last heard from on Sunday, when Nardi made a brief call to his wife via satphone. The plan to helicopter Vassily Pivtsov and three members of his Russian-Kazakh-Kyrgyz K2 team to the site of the missing climbers’ wrecked tent at Camp 3 fell through, when the searchers looked at a video of the conditions and deemed the avalanche risk extreme. Moreover, the weather has turned for the worse, wrapping Nanga Parbat in thick fog and bitter cold.

Winter Nanga parbat, March 1st, 2019.

Clouds shrouded Nanga Parbat today. Photo: Daniele Nardi’s Base Camp crew

Meanwhile, Alex Txikon has volunteered to fly to Nanga Parbat, as close as possible to Camp 1, with three other members of his team, including a doctor. There, he will activate three high-powered drones, which he has brought to film his own expedition. The drones can operate at high altitude and will patrol the Mummery Spur, up to the plateau above and along all the hypothetical paths the missing climbers might have taken.

Drones in high-altitude mountain rescues were first used last year, when Bartek Bargiel used one to find stricken climber Rick Allen on Broad Peak. Bargiel was in the area to film his brother Andrzej ski down K2.

Some sources have compared this situation to the one on Nanga Parbat in 2018, when Tomasz Mankievicz perished but his partner, Elisabeth Revol, survived thanks to volunteers from K2, who abandoned their own climb to aid in the emergency. But this current case differs in one essential way: Last year, the stranded climbers sent out a clear SOS call; this time, there has been only only silence. In fact, there’s been no sign of the pair for nearly a week.

Yesterday’s search flight showed a mountain face swept by massive avalanches, and a broken orange tent where Camp 3 used to be. Hopes of finding the climbers alive are dimming fast. Under such circumstances, some are asking to what extent other expeditions, such as those currently on K2, should sacrifice their own hard-fought goals without even knowing whether the climbers they’re searching for are still alive. The drones, at least, can look for them safely, without risking the lives of the searchers.

Txikon and his partners were not able to go today because of issues over who is covering the rescue expenses. That has now been resolved (Daniele Nardi’s family has stepped up), and the pickup flight to K2 Base Camp and then onto Nanga Parbat is scheduled for tomorrow.

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Wrecked Tent and Avalanche Debris Spotted on Nanga Parbat