Gasherbrum VII: Where the hell is the rescue helicopter?

Cala Cimente (l.) and Francesco Cassardo (in 2018)

It is almost a miracle that the Italian climber Francesco Cassardo is still alive. After the first ascent of the 6,955-meter-high Gasherbrum VII in the Karakoram – together with his compatriot Cala Cimenti – the 30-year-old fell yesterday – as reported – on his descent about 500 meters deep. Cala, who had left the summit on skis, climbed up to the seriously injured Francesco and immediately sounded the alarm. First it was said that the Pakistani authorities had given the go-ahead for the deployment of a rescue helicopter, which would take off on Sunday immediately after sunrise.

Cimenti descended to Camp 1 and fetched the necessary equipment to spend the night at the side of the injured Cassardo. Cala was in constant contact with the Italian homeland via satellite phone and received medical advice. The injured Francesco is a doctor and is therefore able to assess his condition himself. According to his brother, Cassardo’s life was hanging by a thread during the night.

Appeal to Italy’s Foreign Minister

On Sunday morning, Cimenti decided to take Cassardo a hundred meters down to a spot where a rescue helicopter could land better. But the promised helicopter did not come. Instead, it became known that eight mountaineers had been flown out of K2 Base Camp. Cimentis’s wife spoke of “bureaucratic problems” via Facebook.

The accident victim’s brother, Stefano Cassardo, publicly appealed to Italian Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi to intervene so that the helicopter rescue could finally take off: “My brother is dying. We have reached the limit. He will die if the helicopter doesn’t fly soon. Every minute lost diminishes Francesco’s chance of survival.” The family had assured the Pakistani authorities in writing that they would cover all the costs of the rescue operation. “We cannot let Francesco die like this. All of you, please help us!”

Urubko and Bowie participate in the rescue operation

The Gasherbrum massif

In the late afternoon local time still no rescue helicopter had arrived at Gasherbrum VII. But the climbers Denis Urubko from Russia and Don Bowie from Canada reached Cimenti and Cassardo. Two Polish climbers were to follow. First they planned to carry the injured back to Gasherbrum Base Camp. “We’ll probably run all night, but we’ll bring Francesco to safety,” Cala let us know via Facebook.

With a kind of sledge they built, they brought Cassardo to the Camp, from where he and Cimenti had set off the day before for their summit bid. Arriving at the camp, the rescuers decided to spend the night there. It was too dangerous to walk through the dark with the seriously injured, they said.

“Nightmare”

The Italian climber Marco Confortola, who co-ordinates the rescue operation from Gasherbrum Base Camp, is stunned and speaks on Facebook of a “nightmare” in view of the bureaucratic hurdles in Pakistan: “In 20 years of helicopter rescue I have never felt this way, to have an intervention to do urgently, weather ok, wind ok, perfect visibility waiting in the pitch for a helicopter that has never arrived today and my thought is only one ‘we must save it'”.Now everyone is hoping that the rescue helicopter will finally arrive on Monday. So, please continue to keep your fingers crossed!

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