Monday, 1 February 2010

enforced vol biv

The flying at Bir had been fantastic. The season had not fully got underway but Dharamsala had been reached by many. There had been a relatively late start as the monsoon had lingered a little. However this left the great advantage that cloudbase had remained fairly high allowing some wonderful flights along the high route to Dharamsala. We had some incredible flights over the back discovering areas where the likelihood of been pinned at 5500m was probable, as both John and I discovered at different times. A soviet pilot (Andre) had gone missing and people were rightfully concerned.

Due to language difficulties people didn't know what each other were up to, many didn't even know Andre had gone missing, very few, us included had any idea where.
John, Jim and I had gone for a search hoping to check suitable high landings, as possible vol biv sites. It was a gap between our expeditions and we were on the look out to improve them. Whilst flying near Waldo struggling to get through the lift and join John at a top landing, the Scot, Julian Robinson came over the radio saying someone had crashed just beyond Big Face somewhere. We all set off to check the story and see what we could do help.
The information was basic so Jim took a lower route and I took a higher route. John whose radio was down (we weren't working) launched wondering what we were up to. Austrian Mike Blubb joined us. It was clear that this wouldn't be easy without more information and we passed Big face and the next 2 spurs with no luck. On the 3rd spur I noticed a splash of red. Normally there are red flags on the many temples however I was unfamiliar with this one. It was near the top of the spur and not far below cloudbase, so hard to see from where I was so I went closer to get a better look. Fortunately we'd found the downed pilot. Unfortunately, not only had he crashed, he'd managed to wrap himself around a huge 120ft rock at about 3100m on a very steep grass slope. See orange bit on the blurred photo below.
Landing up here was not easy, the cloud was sucking on the top and base was sometimes around the casualty. After experiencing cloud suck and a few aborted attempts I got down safely and Jim and Mike headed off to tell others exactly where we were. It appears that cloud was the cause of his accident. By now it was about 3.45 and going to get dark at about 6.

After scrambling down the steep slope and climbing up the back of the rock I finally viewed the pilot from up close. What a place to crash! He had got out of his harness and was on a small ledge about 2ft wide, 20ft below me and 100ft above the ground.

I am not a climber and I couldn't take on the risk involved to get closer to him. He was conscious and coherent, although I don't speak Kazach and he appeared to have an injury to the lower leg. I lowered some water and my first aid equipment for him to self administer and got on the radio and SAT phone for help. It was great to know that Jim, John and the Kazach group from Almaty had informed Suresh Thakur and help was on its way. However it was beginning to get dark. Help started to arrive but it was just 1 person, Evgeny the Kazach instructor arrived with Morphine based painkillers and a climbing harness. Evgeny proceeded to treat and comfort,
The ledge with Sergai and casualty.
I found a prominent position, gathered wood and lit a fire, which had the dual advantage of keeping me warm and providing a point for the rescuers to walk to.
Rescuers finally arrived at about 8.30pm they were well resourced with splints, ropes, additional pain relief and a backboard,
Suresh and Kazach climber fix ropes .

The casualty was lowered, attached to the board and carried up a 60+ degree grass slope, through a boulder choke and by 3am was in hospital. This was much easier to write than to do.

the boulder choke path

I believe he has made a good recovery from a compound lower leg fracture, broken arm and some ribs. He was an extremely lucky man, I believe Andre has not been found over 3 months later and during a search for another lost Soviet, a rescuer was killed through losing his footing.

After helping with the initial rescue, I missed the carry down and spent the night wrapped around the fire trying to keep warm and not thinking of food. I woke stiff and hungry with frost in my beard. Soon the morning sun warmed the ground enough for a launch and a wonderful morning flight back to Billing. I arrived at Chatchujees for breakfast and a very warming welcome from the pilots gathered for the days flying.

If any of the Kazach crew read this and have any photos or viewpoints to add they would be most welcome.

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