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THURSDAY, September 28, 2023

At least 5 killed on Mount Everest in deadly week on world’s highest peak

At least 5 killed on Mount Everest in deadly week on world’s highest peak
SUNDAY, May 21, 2023

The past week has been especially bleak for those scaling Mount Everest. Four climbers - a Malaysian, a Chinese, an Indian and a Moldovan – and a Sherpa guide are confirmed to have died, and at least two – a Singaporean and another Malaysian – have been reported missing.

At least nine have died so far on Mount Everest in what has been a deadly climbing season on the world’s highest peak.

Lieutenant-Colonel (Lt-Col) Awang Askandar Ampuan Yaacub, 56, died on Friday as he was making his final ascent from the so-called death zone above 8,000m. He was the Malaysian Civil Defence Force’s Kedah director.

Sherpas tried to get him back to Camp 4 when he became ill after climbing past the South Summit. According to The Himalayan Times, he died before he could reach the camp.

Camp 4, which sits on a plateau at about 8,000m, is the final base before the summit's ascent.

Former Kedah football coach Azraai Khor Abdullah told Bernama that Lt-Col Awang Askandar had wanted to plant the flags of Malaysia and the Civil Defence Force at Everest’s summit.

“He told me how proud he would be to wave the... flags atop Mount Everest. Malaysia lost a good leader,” he added.

Lakpa Sherpa, a senior official from the 8K Expeditions company, told Reuters that Chinese climber Xuebin Chen, 52, died on Thursday, also during a push towards the summit from 8,000m.

Suzanne Leopoldina Jesus, a 59-year-old teacher from India’s western Maharashtra state, also died on Thursday.

She had wanted to set a record as the first Asian with a pacemaker to scale Everest, but she could not climb higher than 5,800m.

Leopoldina Jesus was assessed to be not in shape to make the ascent, but she wanted to push on.

She got sick and had to be airlifted to a hospital, where she died.

A deaf and mute Malaysian climber, meanwhile, was reported to have been missing since Friday after successfully reaching Everest’s summit on Thursday.

Muhammad Hawari Hasim, 33, went missing after he had already descended to Camp 4, according to Nivesh Karki, executive director of Pioneer Adventure.

Mr Muhammad Hawari bin Hasim, 33, went missing after he had already descended to Camp 4.

Karki said the guides who were with Hawari went out in search of another Malaysian climber, presumably Lt-Col Awang Askandar, but when they returned to Camp 4, Hawari was no longer there.

Karki said messages had been sent to all mounting climbing operators at Everest who might have got word about Hawari.

On average, around five climbers die on the 8,849m-tall Everest from March to May.

But so far in 2023, the toll has reached nearly double that little more than halfway through the season.

The area above 8,000m is known as the “death zone”, where thin air and low oxygen levels heighten the risk of altitude sickness, and it is notorious for its difficult terrain.

A Moldovan climber, Victor Brinza, died on Wednesday at Camp 4 en route to the top, and another Nepali member of a team clearing trash from the mountain, Phurba Sherpa, died on his return from the summit on Tuesday.

Three Nepali climbers were killed in April when a block of glacial ice fell and swept them into a crevasse as they were crossing the treacherous Khumbu icefall on a supply mission.

A 69-year-old American mountaineer, Jonathan Sugarman, 69, also died on May 1, also during an acclimatisation rotation.

Close to 100 summited on Friday, with hundreds more to go as the weather window begins to close.

Singaporean climber missing after reaching summit of Mount Everest on Friday

Singaporean climber Shrinivas Sainis Dattatraya last sent a text message to his wife on Friday saying he had reached the summit of Everest, but he was not likely to make it back down.

Shrinivas, 39, who is an executive director at real estate firm Jones Lang LaSalle, left for Mount Everest on April 1. He was due to return home on June 4.

Speaking to The Straits Times, his wife Sushma Soma said she last heard from him at 3.30pm on Friday. There has been no word from him since.

Soma, a 36-year-old musician, said: “Through his satellite phone, he told me that he had made it to the summit. But then he followed with bad news, saying he would not be able to make it down.”

She added that he told her he had come down with high-altitude cerebral edema (Hace), a severe type of high-altitude illness that could prove fatal.

She learnt at 2am on Saturday that the two Sherpas he was with, as well as another person in the group, made it down from the mountain, but her husband never did.

In response to queries, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said the Singapore High Commission in New Delhi has been in close contact with the family of Shrinivas, local authorities in Nepal and emergency medical services since Friday evening.

She said: “Search and rescue operations are ongoing. MFA will continue to monitor developments and render the necessary consular support to the family during this difficult time.”

The Straits Times has contacted Seven Summit Treks – a Nepal-based adventure travel operator – for more information. Shrinivas’ Everest ascent was organised by Seven Summit Treks and another operator, Nepal Guide Treks.

Singaporean climber Kumaran Rasappan, who scaled Mount Everest in 2012, said there are two main fatal illnesses that can occur at such high altitudes – Hace and high-altitude pulmonary edema, or Hape.

Dr Kumaran, 39, who is a consultant at the department of orthopaedic surgery at the National University Hospital, said the brain fills up with fluid when struck by Hace.

He added that the illness can lead to a loss of coordination and climbers can become unable to understand their surroundings. In some cases, they can experience hallucinations.

When hit with Hape, fluid fills up the climber’s lungs, he said. It can lead to coughing, and climbers may experience breathlessness and difficulty walking.

Kumaran, who holds an international diploma in mountain medicine, said: “The main thing that should be done when either of these two illnesses occurs is to get the person down the mountain as soon as possible.”

He added that steroids and supplemental oxygen can act as temporary measures while the climber gets to lower altitude.

Shrinivas’ family members have started a petition on to help bolster support for ongoing search efforts.

The petition said a team of Sherpas embarked on a search operation on Saturday morning, but added that there is more to do and a need to act faster.

The petition has obtained 7,200 signatures so far.

Soma said: “We are racing against time to find him, and we are urgently looking for anyone who has rescue mission contacts in Nepal to help.”

Raul Dancel and Gabrielle Chan

The Straits Times

Asia News Network