5 Aug 2008

K2 survivors describe deadly avalanche

9:29 pm on 5 August 2008

Survivors of an expedition to the top of the world's second-highest mountain have described scenes of panic after an avalanche hit the group on its descent.

Eleven climbers died on K2, in Pakistan, over the weekend, in the deadliest day in the mountain's history.

The avalanche struck as about 22 climbers descended from the peak of K2 in darkness on Friday, sweeping some of them away and leaving others stranded.

The avalanche caused a chunk of ice to break off the mountain's peak, tearing down the fixed ropes that climbers were using to descend.

An Italian member of the group has been reached by rescuers and taken to an advance base camp on the mountain. Seven survivors are now off the mountain and either in hospital or recuperating, and four others are still missing.

Rescuers say hopes that those missing can still be saved are receding fast.

Many regard the 8,611 metre peak as the world's most difficult to climb.

Mountaineer Peter Hillary was the only survivor of a 1995 attempt to climb K2. He says the climbers would have been able to hear the ice coming towards them, but would have been unable to do anything about it.

More than 70 climbers have lost their lives on K2, a good number of them at the Bottleneck. The previous deadliest day in the history of K2 was on 13 August 1995, when six people fell or disappeared during a storm, including British female climber Alison Hargreaves.