Fears grow for ski mountaineers

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The Independent Online
HOPES are fading for four British ski mountaineers and a Russian guide who went missing last Friday on Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia.

Air and ground rescue teams have been combing the area for two days to no avail. The climbers had been attempting an ascent on to Mt Elbrus, which at 5,600m is Europe's highest mountain. In the nearby village of Terskol there is an increasing sense among friends and family of the missing climbers, that time is running out.

John Milledge, 28, of Sheffield; Tom Keeley, 27, of Manchester; Ken White, 42, of Dumbarton; Miles Plant, 42, of Lincoln, and their guide, Anatoly Janochkin, 55, were one of three teams which set out for the summit last Friday.

Within hours weather conditions deteriorated, forcing two groups to retreat to the final ascent hut from where they later safely returned. There has been no sign of the third team - much the most experienced.

'We are not giving up hope by any means but it has now been four days and we must be realistic,' Dr Jim Milledge, an experienced mountaineer with the expedition and father of one of the missing men, said.

Despite better weather yesterday the operation suffered setbacks. High winds stopped two helicopters searching around the summit and later a member of the rescue team fell more than 300m breaking his pelvis, a leg, and puncturing a lung.

The Foreign Office said a British consular official would arrive in the area later today.

'It is a massive area to search,' David Hamilton, the expedition leader, said. 'It is as big as the Cairngorms and has several large glaciers that hide countless crevasses. It can be a treacherous climb.'