Hope for missing climber runs out

Alison Hargreaves is dead, says expedition organiser as two more are killed
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The Independent Online
All hope of finding the British climber Alison Hargreaves alive on K2 evaporated yesterday when her expedition organiser said there was "absolutely no chance whatsoever" that she had survived.

As low cloud forced Army helicopters to abandon forays to the mountain, Nazir Sabir, a veteran of K2, said: "I know it's painful for the relatives, but they have to face it. She's not coming back."

But Jim Ballard, 49, Ms Hargreaves' husband, who is preparing to take their two young children on a pilgrimage to the mountain, said: "I am not sad if she has died. I would have been more sad if she hadn't climbed the mountain."

Visibility at the airport in Skardu, close to the mountains, was so poor that a request for help from two Spanish climbers suffering frostbite had to be turned down.

It was not clear last night whether these two were with a further three unnamed Spaniards who are missing after being hit by an avalanche on Sunday, along with Ms Hargreaves, Rob Slater, an American, and a New Zealander, Bruce Grant. A Canadian, Jeff Lakes, is believed to have died from a pulmonary oedema (fluid in the lungs) brought on by altitude sickness which forced him to abandon his climb.

British mountaineers suffered a second shock yesterday with the news that Paul Nunn, president of the British Mountaineering Council, had also been killed in an avalanche in Pakistan. Mr Nunn, 52, was descending from the summit of Mount Haromosh 2 with another British climber, Geoff Tier, when both were swept away by a fall of snow and ice.

His death was described as "an enormous blow to the climbing world" by Doug Scott, the vice-president of the BMC.

Mr Nunn and Mr Tier, from Sheffield, were killed on 6 August while descending Mt Haromosh, which is 6,666 metres (21,870ft) high. They were climbing with three other Britons, who managed to reach the bottom of the mountain.

Mr Sabir's forthright comments about Ms Hargeaves' fate were made after learning that a party on Abruzzi Ridge, several thousand feet from the scene of the disaster, had seen a body whose clothing resembled Ms Hargreaves'.

That party, led by Peter Hillary, 39, son of Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Everest, is due in Skardu next week. An attempt may be made today by Pakistani authorities to bring some survivors off the mountain by helicopter. Mr Hillary called Mr Sabir by satellite telephone three days ago. "Peter told me they saw a dead body [using binoculars] and they believe it is most likely Alison's," said Mr Sabir. "He sounded terrified ... he asked me to say nothing until he could contact relatives."

However, it leaked out when mountaineers from another US expedition called an American Internet magazine, Outside Online, from K2 Base Camp. In another message to the magazine on Thursday, Scott Fischer, leading an expedition on nearby Broad Peak, said: "The mood is sombre. We've been listening as people have called relatives to tell them what happened. It's been hard." But one of those calling had been Peter Hillary, who was able to reassure his father in New Zealand that he was safe.

Mr Ballard dismissed any suggestion that his wife had been reckless. "Alison did what her mind told her to do. There weren't any time pressures." He said their children Tom, six, and Kate, four, wanted to see K2 and still held out a slim hope for the woman he dubbed "the finest woman climber ever".

Mr Sabir said: "I have climbed K2 and I know the area where Alison went missing ... after all this time there is absolutely no chance whatsoever they could have survived."

Alison 'died happy', page 3

A young life ended, page 11