Nine die in worst-ever K2 climbing disaster

At least nine climbers have died on the world's most dangerous mountain after a series of incidents led to chaos on the slopes of K2. Officials say a number of other climbers are missing and that the death toll could rise. In what was described as one of the blackest weekends in mountaineering, six of the climbers were struck by an avalanche while descending from the summit of the mountain, the second highest after Everest. Three more died in separate incidents.

The fatalities came after 22 climbers from eight expeditions reached the summit on Saturday and then began the perilous journey back down the mountain. "They were returning from the summit when an avalanche at the Bottleneck hit them," Ghulam Mohammad, a tour official, told Reuters.

While precise details remain unclear, it seems that a serac – a pinnacle or pillar of ice – gave way. This killed some of the group and destroyed a number of fixed climbing ropes on the steep gully known as the Bottleneck, leaving other climbers stranded. The Bottleneck is located at a height of more than 26,000ft (8,200m). Climbers call it the Death Zone. Fredrik Straeng, a Swedish climber, described the incident to the Swedish news agency TT, saying he believed more than nine climbers died: "I have carried down both living and dead people from the mountain. I panicked when a [climber] fell straight on to my back ... I was terrified that we would all be pulled off the cliff and screamed to him to use his ice axe, but he lost his grip and plummeted off a 300-metre cliff."

The summit of K2, on the border of Pakistan and China, is 800ft lower than Everest, but experts agree K2 is a more challenging climb and statistically it remains one of the deadliest mountains for fatalities. At least 70 climbers have died on the mountain, many at the Bottleneck. Officials said a team of climbers had begun ascending the mountain to take supplies to those still trying to make their way down. Helicopters were being readied to bring down injured climbers and spotter planes are standing by.

Last night there was confusion about the nationality of those climbers still missing. One report said five members of a Dutch team were still missing, while there was also no news about an Irish climber Gerard McDonnell, a French climber Hugues d'Aubarede and a third climber identified only as "Karim".

On Friday, Mr McDonnell had achieved his ambition of becoming the first Irishman to climb K2 after an earlier failed attempt. His friends and family were last night hoping that reports of a lone figure making their way down the mountain was Mr McDonnell. A Korean team lost five members, including two Nepalis.

Among those confirmed dead were three South Koreans, two Nepalese, along with Serbian, Norwegian, Dutch and French climbers. Norwegian media are reporting that Rolf Bae, 33, died in the disaster, while his wife is reportedly trying to make her way down with two other Norwegians. Unconfirmed reports said one Pakistani had died and some foreign and local climbers were unaccounted for.

In August 1995, six people fell or disappeared during a storm on K2, among them a British climber, Alison Hargreaves.

The head of the Italian mountaineering group Ev-K2-CNR, Agostino Da Polenza, told SkyItalia television: "According to the rumours from the ... base camp, there should be nine people dead and four still missing."

Major Farooq Firoz, a spokesman for the Pakistan military which is organising the search missions, said: "We were told that some climbers are still returning to the camps."

A Dutch expedition said on its website that three of its team were descending from Camp Three, at 7,350 metres. Two of them were suffering from frostbite.

The deadliest descent

*K2 is the second highest mountain in the world at 8,611m or 28,251ft.

*It was first conquered by Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, part of an Italian expedition, on 31 July 1954.

*In an earlier attempt in 1953, climber Art Gilkey was killed, either in an avalanche or in a deliberate attempt to avoid burdening his companions.

*Those mountaineers who reach the peak have a much greater chance of dying while descending than on other peaks: 27 per cent have perished making their way back down – a rate three times higher than on Everest.

*1986 was known as the 'black summer': 13 out of 27 to try the ascent died. Polish climber Wanda Rutkiewicz became the first woman to reach the top, but Liliane Barrard – who became the second minutes later – and her husband, Maurice, did not complete the descent.

*On 13 August 1995, a storm caused six people to fall or disappear, the previous record for the mountain's deadliest day. Among them was Alison Hargreaves, the first woman to climb Everest without oxygen or sherpas.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has over 40 years ...

Recruitment Genius: Weekend Factory Operatives

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This high quality thread manufacturer is curr...

Recruitment Genius: FP&A Analyst

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A market leading acquirer and m...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fully qualified electricians re...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific