Pakistani Helicopter Rescue Pilots Honoured by Alpine Club

In September, the Alpine Club honoured Polish climbers Krzysztof Wielicki, Adam Bielecki, Denis Urubko, Piotr Tomala and Jarosław Botor with a Spirit of Mountaineering Commendation for their high-profile rescue operation on Nanga Parbat in January this year. In addition to this award, the Alpine Club has also recognised the efforts of four Pakistani pilots who were involved in a number of difficult rescues this year, at a UNESCO conference in Paris last week.

Mathieu Maynadier with members of the 5th Army Squadron., 108 kb
Mathieu Maynadier with members of the 5th Army Squadron.
© Shamyl Sharafat Ali

The Spirit of Mountaineering commendation "acknowledges and thanks those who, in the true spirit of mountaineering, have unselfishly given exceptional assistance to those in need of help in the mountains."

Lt. Col. Muhammad Anjum Rafique, Maj. Fakhar-e-Abbas, Maj. Jehanzeb Qazi and Maj. Muhammad Hussain Hamid were first involved with the rescue of Elisabeth Revol in January this year on Nanga Parbat (8,126m). Expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki and his climbing team were also recognised for their involvement in the rescue during a presentation at the Ladek Mountain Festival in Poland.

The four Pakistani pilots were also variously involved in a further three rescues later in the season, namely on Latok I (7,145m), Ultar Sar (7,388m) and in the Thagas Valley.

On Ultar Sar, Bruce Norman and Timothy Millar were caught in an avalanche at 19,000ft which killed their third member Christian Huber. Pakistani pilots carried Norman and Millar to safety on the 1st July after successfully landing on a narrow snow ridge high on the mountain. This also allowed for Huber's body to be taken down.

On Latok I, Alexander Gukov was airlifted off of steep ground on the 31st July after conditions deteriorated during his and Sergey Glazunov's summit attempt from the North Ridge. Following the death of his climbing partner Sergey Glazunov, the pilots overcame challenging flying conditions to reach Gukov who was stranded at 20,000ft.

In the Thagas Valley, Mathieu Maynadier was airlifted to the Skardu military hospital on the 7th August after the team self-evacuated from the wall to the glacier below. Maynadier had been caught in rockfall on route, sustaining both concussion and injury to his arm.

Whilst not a formal rescue service, the willingness and bravery of the "Fearless 5" (5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron) personnel in responding to often dangerous situations has saved a number of lives in recent years.

The recognition was presented on the 25th October at a UNESCO Conference organised by the Pakistani Embassy at UNESCO House, Paris. Alongside the presentation, a number of speakers and professionals shared their experiences of mountaineering in Pakistan.

"The Commendation reminds us," said Alpine Club President John Porter, "that our passion for alpine climbing can inadvertently put others at risk, but there will always be those willing to aid those in need."

Established in 2009 by Norman Croucher, the first recognition was given to Simon Anthematten, Horia Colibasanu, Ueli Steck, Alexey Bolotov, Don Bowie and Denis Urubko for going to the aid of Inaki Ochoa who had fallen ill on Annapurna's summit ridge in 2008.

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