Desperate rescue bid to save climbers on 'Killer Mountain'

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A dramatic rescue operation was under way last night to save two climbers stranded for three days on a Himalayan peak, nicknamed Killer Mountain.

Rescue teams supported by the Pakistani army were readying themselves for an attempt to reach the two men, stranded at a height of around 7,000 metres on Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth highest peak, which gets its grisly nickname from the large number of climbers who have died attempting an ascent.

That tally grew yesterday when the stranded men's colleague, the renowned Italian climber Karl Unterkircher, perished after falling into a ravine.

A spokesman for the climbers' expedition said his two fellow Italians, Simon Kehrer and Walter Nones, had been unable to find their way back to base-camp because storms and heavy rain had opened up a number of crevasses. "We don't know yet whether the rescue work could be started today," said the spokesman, Rashid Ahmad. "It all depends on the weather."

As part of the operation to save the men, who were climbing a new route towards Nanga Parbat's 8,126-metre summit, two army helicopters flew in two more Italian climbers – who had arrived from Milan to lead the rescue – to Fairy Meadows plains, about an hour's walk from the mountain.

Attempts to fly rescuers towards the mountain have been complicated by the fact that the altitude is above the maximum permitted for the helicopters to fly safely. Supplies may have to be dropped to the stranded men to enable them to wait out the situation until they can be more easily approached.

Mr Ahmad said the two men had confirmed the death of Mr Unterkircher when they last spoke by satellite phone on Wednesday before its battery ran out. "Time is running out for them since they can probably only survive two to three days more on their own," he said.

Mr Unterkircher, 37, was something of a legendary figure among the climbing fraternity. In 2004, the Alpine specialist set a new world record for the fastest ascent, in 63 days, of Mt Everest and K2 without oxygen. In 2006 he became the first to conquer the 20,500ft peak of Mt Genyen in China.