It has been eight days since there has been any word from or sign of the missing alpinists Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard on Nanga Parbat. As a rescue operation continuously frustrated by uncooperative weather stretches on into its second week, realities are dawning that, at this point, the search is most likely a recovery operation. Nonetheless, hope remains that the two will be found. Drones are now on site at Nanga, ready to scan the slopes whenever weather permits.
Over the weekend, Pakistani military pilots continued their efforts to transport members of the Russian-Kazakh-Kyrgyz K2 expedition and their drones to the base of Nanga Parbat (8,126 meters) by helicopter. The plan is to use Basque climber Alex Txikon’s drones to search the Diamir (west) face for any trace of Ballard and Nardi. Last week, helicopter reconnaissance flights spotted a snow-covered tent near the Mummery Spur—the route which Ballard and Nardi had been attempting the first winter ascent of; that and other signs suggested a possible avalanche.
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Pilots flying two Écureuil B3 helicopters finally managed to pick up Txikon and three of his teammates—Felix Criado, Ignacio de Zuloaga and Dr. Josep Sanchis—from K2 base camp on Sunday, March 3, but were unable to fly them all the way to Nanga Parbat. The choppers had to turn away eight kilometers shy of the mountain, ultimately landing for the night in Skardu.
At 11:04 a.m. on Monday, March 4, the helicopters took off again, this time from Skardu, with the four Spanish rescuers aboard.
Shamyl Sharafat Ali, one of the rescue coordinators, reported the following sequence of events to Rock and Ice: “Arriving at Nanga Parbat, the two Écureuils climbed to Camp-I and spent 10 minutes up there to reconnoiter a landing spot at Camp-I. The formation then landed at Base Camp dropping off the Spanish rescuers. The two helis then took Alex Txikon and Rehmat Ullah Baig from Base Camp and climbed up to Camp-I. Since Rehmat was with Daniele and Tom during the initial phase of the expedition, he was able to point out the exact route on the Mummery Spur to Alex and the pilots. The formation then started an aerial reconnaissance with Alex on board and searched the area for around 50 minutes. They went up to 7100m before climbing down to Camp-I. Unfortunately no sign of climbers or a camp site was found during the aerial reconnaissance. The formation then dropped off Alex Txikon on Camp-I and returned to Base Camp before heading back to the base.
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“Ali Sadpara has climbed up to Camp-I to join up with Alex Txikon. Alex Txikon has a drone with him [with] which he intends to reconnoiter the area to locate Daniele and Tom.”
At 2:44 p.m., Txikon provided a situation report from his location between Camp 1 and Camp 2 on Nanga at 4,850 meters, forwarded to Rock and Ice by Ali. “Wonderful weather,” Txikon wrote. “Very warm and avalanches’ danger increases. With helicopter we did a recon very close to the mountain, along Kinshofer route and then on Mummery Spur and the area of the glacier between camp 3 and our landing point. … Unfortunately no traces of our friends.”
Txikon went on to say that the drones are being prepped for tomorrow and that “each possibility will be explored.”
Alex Txikon Getting Dropped Off at Camp 1, Nanga Parbat, After Aerial Recon of Mummery Spur
Daniele Nardi’s friends and family have set up a fundraiser to defray the costs of the ongoing rescue operation. The fundraiser page reads, “The helicopter rescue operation costs roughly €50,000 per day. Donations to help support these costs are graciously appreciated. Any unused donations will be donated to the schools of Pakistan where Daniele has regularly donated school materials and medicine on this and past expeditions.”
To date the campaign has already raised over €131,247.