A high-altitude rescue team is setting new standards in the Himalayas this season, performing the highest altitude longline rescue ever completed. On May 19th, an elite rescue team successfully rescued a mountaineer from near Camp 3 at 23,000 feet (7000m) on Everest. The climber, a Nepalese born, naturalized Canadian citizen named Sudarshan Gautam, who is also a double amputee after an accident flying a kite into overhead powerlines took both of his arms at 14 years of age, reached the summit but became extremely exhausted and severely dehydrated on the descent. The rescue helicopter, crewed by alpinists Maurizio Folini, Simone Moro and Armin Senoner, was called to make the rescue at “around 23,000 feet,” which is right near the maximum altitude that a helicopter is able to fly. After a tricky and dangerous rescue, the team was able to successfully evacuate Gautam.
The rescue marks a milestone for the Himalayan mountaineering community and kindles hope and discussion for the future of high-altitude rescue operations in the world’s highest mountains.
In an interview with Moro, who made headlines earlier in the Everest season after a highly publicized altercation with Sherpas on April 26th, Senoner and Folini for Planetmountain.com, Folini was quoted stating, “You don’t suddenly improvise a flight of this sort, just like all flights aren’t improvised. You have to be prepared, technically, physically and also mentally.” Moro added, “the aim wasn’t to set a record but to save someone’s life.”
The team has been flying rescue missions using Nepalese helicopters for two years but had the idea to create an autonomous team with its own helicopter, which he has been able to accomplish this season. The entire operation is privately financed, and according to Moro, “doesn’t cost the Italian or Nepalese taxpayer a single cent.” Moro also flies missions for the local population for “free or at extremely reduced prices.”
Moro sees potential for the expansion of high-altitude Himalayan rescue operations. In the future, he hopes to see more than one team/helicopter, as well as a specialized team of alpinists/Sherpas that would be able to perform rescues at altitudes and in weather conditions that are impossible for helicopters.
The 2013 Everest season saw other notable ascents, including the oldest person to reach the summit, 80 year-old Japanese mountaineer Yuichiro Miura on May 23rd, the first successful climb of Nuptse, Everest, and Lhotse in one push from Base Camp by Kenton Cool, a team of six 16 year-old students from India who successfully summited Everest, and others.