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Pakistan probes death of porter on K2 after distressing video went viral

A view of the K2. — Reuters/File
  • Witnesses claim Hassan was alive when left behind.
  • There was no rescue mission, eyewitnesses tell BBC.
  • Norwegian climber says her team tried “everything”.

The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has set up an inquiry committee to investigate the tragic death of a Pakistani high-altitude porter Muhammad Hassan on K2 last month.

According to some shocking videos and photos on social media, a group of climbers walked past Hassan after he fell off a ledge. 

Reportedly, the porter died a few hours later at a narrow path known as the bottleneck, which is 8,200 metres high.

In response to the viral videos, GB’s Tourism, Sports and Culture Deparment set up an investigation committee to look into the matter.

The order, dated August 7, says that some “distressing” videos and photos have been circulating on social media regarding Hassan’s death and it is “crucial to ascertain the facts surrounding the incident.” 

Mountaineers Philip Flamig and Wilhelm Steindl, who posted pictures of the incident, claimed that Hassan was alive when people climbed over him, leaving him behind.

“We saw a guy alive, lying in the traverse in the bottleneck. And people were stepping over him on the way to the summit. And there was no rescue mission,” Steindl told the BBC.

“I was really shocked. And I was really sad. I started to cry about the situation that people just passed him and there was no rescue mission.”

Hassan was being treated by one of the climbers “while everyone else” moved towards the summit in a “heated, competitive summit rush”, Flamig told Austria’s Der Standard newspaper.

The committee set up will not only look into what exactly happened to Hassan on July 27, but also whether Hassan should he even been allowed up there based on his mountaineering skills in the first place.

The core tasks of the committee are:

a) Investigate the circumstances under which the accident occurred, including the condition of the mountain. particularly regarding avalanches, and the reasons leading to the accident.

b) Examine the actions of the expedition group that Mr. Muhammad Hassan was working with. and ascertain whether adequate efforts were made to rescue him after he slipped while fixing ropes.

c) Determine the condition of Mr Hassan’s climbing gear and ascertain who authorized him to climb with equipment that might have been insufficient for such high-altitude expeditions and his level of experience.

d) Verify the accounts of fellow porters and sherpas regarding Mr. Hassan’s uniform/kit and the condition of his oxygen mask during the accident.

e) Provide information on the services and employment status of the 30 HAPs who were recently trained through Snow School Rattu. Detail the locations and expeditions where these trained porters have been employed.

f) Examine whether the training provided to the HAPs has had any positive impact on high-altitude expeditions, particularly in terms of safety, preparedness, and adherence to established safety protocols. 

However, Norwegian climber Kristin Harila and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen Sherpa summitted K2 on July 27 and became the world’s fastest climbers to scale all peaks above 8,000 metres in just over three months. However, they have been heavily criticised, along with more than 100 other climbers who walked past Hassan, for not helping the Pakistani porter.

Harila, on the other hand, has told the BBC she and her team tried “everything” to save Hassan’s life.

“It’s a tragic accident… here is a father and son and a husband who lost his life that day on K2. I think that’s very, very sad that it ended this way,” she said.

“We were trying to save him, we did everything we could for many hours… it’s a very, very narrow path.

“How are you going to climb and traverse and carry [a person]? It’s not possible.”

After facing abuse on social media in recent days, Harila also posted an update on Instagram, photo-and-video sharing website, in order to stop the spread of “misinformation and hatred”.

Harila said she didn’t know how the incident took place but Hassan “was hanging upside down” on a rope between two ice anchors, with his harness “all the way down around his knees. In addition, he was not wearing a down suit and his stomach was exposed to snow, wind and low temperature, making it extremely dangerous”.

Harila said that her team spent hour-and-a-half trying to fasten a rope to Hassan, while also giving him hot water and oxygen, until “an avalanche went off around the corner”.

In order to avoid overcrowding the bottleneck, Harila said that she decided to move forward “considering the number of people who had stayed behind and that had turned around” while believing that “Hassan would be getting all the help he could”.

“It was only when we came back down that we saw Hassan had passed and we were ourselves in no shape to carry his body down,” Harila added.

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