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HomeNewsCould Muhammad Hassan have been saved? – DW – 08/11/2023

Could Muhammad Hassan have been saved? – DW – 08/11/2023

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The photos and videos that have been circulating on social media for days about the recent death on K2 are disturbing. In them, climbers can be seen walking past the body of Pakistani climber Muhammad Hassan. At 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) above sea level, the mountain, located in Pakistan, is the world’s second-highest.

As a result of the incident, a commission of inquiry has been set up by the government of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan province. Among the questions it has been tasked with answering are: What exactly happened to Hassan on July 27? Was everything possible done to save his life? Should he even have been allowed up there based on his mountaineering skills? Was he sufficiently equipped for his work as a high-altitude porter on K2?

Little altitude experience, poorly equipped

The answer to the last question is quite clearly “no.”

Hassan’s widow told Austrian mountaineer Wilhelm Steindl and German filmmaker Philip Flämig during their condolence visit that her husband had previously only carried equipment up to the K2 base camp at around 5,100 meters. This time, though, the 27-year-old Hassan had embarked on a trek to over 8,000 meters because he needed money to pay for his sick mother’s medical treatment. Hassan supported the team that secured the route to the summit with ropes. Around 200 climbers were trying to reach the summit that day, about half of them succeeded in doing so.

Hassan lacked not only the necessary experience at extreme altitudes, but also the equipment. Norwegian climber Kristin Harila noted that the high-altitude porter was not wearing a down suit or an oxygen mask. She was among those who did reach the summit, with the support of her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen Sherpa.

Kristin Harila and Tenjen Sherpa
Kristin Harila and her mountain guide Tenjen Sherpa made it to the summit of K2 on July 27, 2023.Image: IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

Kristin Harila: ‘No one’s fault’

Harila says she has been subject to abuse on social media in recent days, being accused of failing to help Hassan — and even receiving death threats. Now she has responded with a statement on her website.

“This was no one’s fault, you cannot comment when you do not understand the situation,” she wrote.

“This happened at the most dangerous part of the deadliest mountain in the world, and you should remember that at 8000+ meters, your survival instincts impact the decisions you make.”

She said her team immediately attended to Hassan when he suddenly slipped for an unexplained reason and initially hung upside down in the rope. Her cameraman, she said, spent about two and a half hours at the Pakistani’s side and administered oxygen to him.

A quick or slow death?

The accident happened at the so-called “bottleneck,” a key point along the route. There, the climbers must cross a very steep, extremely avalanche-prone mountain flank, directly under a huge, overhanging glacier. It’s been described as something akin to Russian roulette, with everyone trying to get through there as quickly as possible.

Due to the sheer volume of climbers trying to reach the summit on July 27, a long queue had formed at the bottleneck – and it lasted for hours. Several small avalanches occurred, but had there been a big one, it almost certainly would have ended in disaster.

Anwar Syed, head of the Lela Peak Expedition, the Pakistani agency that Hassan worked for, said the porter didn’t suffer for long.

“After a few moments he passed away,” Syed said. “So actually, there was not enough time for his rescue.”

This contradicts not only Harila’s statement, but also drone footage shot by German filmmaker Flämig. This shows a climber massaging the Pakistani as he lies on the snow – in daylight. His leg still appears to be moving. The accident was reported to have occurred around 2:15 a.m. – long before daybreak.

Everyone who reached the summit that day passed Hassan, some even twice; on the ascent and descent.

“Based on the accounts of three different eyewitnesses, I can report that this man was still alive while about 50 people passed him. This is also visible in the drone footage,” Flämig told the Vienna daily “Der Standard.”

“Some indicated that this person was still alive as they passed him on their descent.”

Infographic eight-thousander mountains

Base camp party

Willi Steindl aborted his summit attempt below the site of Hassan’s accident, deeming the risk of an avalanche to be too high.

“He died there miserably. It would have taken only three or four people to bring him down,” Steindl told “Der Standard.”

“I wasn’t at the scene of the accident. If I had seen it, I would have climbed up and helped the poor person.”

Later, Harila’s triumph was celebrated with a party at base camp, he said.

“I didn’t go, it disgusted me. A person died up there!”

Although Steindl was not personally involved, he collected money from the expedition teams and delivered it to Hassan’s family. He’s also launched an Internet fundraising campaign to help pay for the education of the Pakistani’s three young children. In Pakistan, high-altitude porters are usually only insured for the equivalent of around $1,500 (€1,365) in the event of death — if at all.

Muhammad Hassan’s fate is reminiscent of similar incidents in the summit zone of Mount Everest in recent years. In 2006, numerous climbers walked past UK climber David Sharp, who had fallen ill at altitude. Nobody stopped to help him. The 34-year-old died at around 8,500 meters above sea level.

This article was adapted from German. 



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