British mountaineer sees four climbers killed in landslide on K2

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The Independent Online

A British mountaineer narrowly escaped with his life when four elite Russian climbers were swept to their deaths in front of him as they approached the summit of K2.

Terence "Banjo" Bannon, from Newry in Co Down, was among a multi-national group of adventurers attempting to climb the world's most dangerous peak when the landslide struck on Sunday. The men were only two hours from the summit and had passed the mountain's notorious Bottle Neck.

Attempts by the Pakistani authorities to recover the bodies of the dead men have been hampered by atrocious weather and high altitude as well as K2's legendary remoteness.

The deaths brings the number to have been killed on K2 this year to eight, with Sunday being the second deadliest day in the 8,611m mountain's history.

Mr Bannon, 37, who climbed Mount Everest in 2003 and has notched up one failed attempt on K2, said he would now give up his dream to climb the world's second highest mountain. The Irishman had teamed up with the other men after his own expedition had been forced to return home after an earlier avalanche swept away their tents.

He said he was devastated by the loss of his fellow climbers, who had become "good friends", and felt lucky to be alive. "We didn't realise that the four lads in front were gone before we climbed on a bit and realised that the rope had snapped because we'd seen the end of it," he said.

"We realised that the slope still had potential for avalanche so we had to back off then from the summit. There was no chance they could have survived it."

He added: "We're all down at base camp, shocked and battered and bruised, but we're still alive.

"We're still in shock from losing four good friends because they were the cream of mountaineering in Russia. These guys had already climbed Everest and a few other 8,000m peaks so they weren't greenhorns as such. It's quite devastating because you get to know people after two and a half months sleeping and staying and eating together."

The leader of the Russian expedition, Serguey Bogomolov, described how a huge piece of snow and ice measuring 120m by 80m fell with no warning. The climbers had been holed up for 11 days at Camp 4 on the mountain waiting for the weather to clear.

They had set 13 August as the cut-off point to return below. Mr Bogomolov said: "Even the food in the tent had ended but that day the sun appeared. There was an overcast below and it was clear above. We decided to go to the top, considering that such weather is an award for our improbable work and persistence. There was an improbable spirit in our team."

He added: "Only the mountain knows what has happened. But she always keeps silent."

K2 is regarded as the pinnacle of achievement in mountaineering. It was first climbed in 1954, and since then only 189 people have made the summit, compared with 1,400 who have scaled Everest. Forty-nine climbers have died in pursuit of K2 - 22 of them on the way down. Of the five women that have made it to the top, three died on the descent and the surviving two were killed on other 8,000m peaks. Despite the relatively clear weather this year, warm temperatures have led to an increase in landslides, thus adding to the mountain's already considerable dangers.