Rescuers searching for the British mountaineer Tom Ballard and his Italian climbing partner, Daniele Nardi, who are missing on Nanga Parbat, are seeking permission from Pakistani officials to use powerful drones to search the 8,000-metre Himalayan peak. According to Nardi’s Facebook page, which has been updated by supporters during the search, the rescue team is
Rescuers searching for the British mountaineer Tom Ballard and his Italian climbing partner, Daniele Nardi, who are missing on Nanga Parbat, are seeking permission from Pakistani officials to use powerful drones to search the 8,000-metre Himalayan peak.
According to Nardi’s Facebook page, which has been updated by supporters during the search, the rescue team is planning to ferry the Basque mountaineer Alex Txikon from the world’s second highest mountain, K2, which is nearby, to allow him to use three high-altitude drones in the search.
The plan to use drones in addition to Pakistani military helicopters, which have been deployed already, comes amid mounting concern about the risk of avalanches on the mountain after days of high winds, snowfall and temperatures as low as -40C.
A statement on Nardi’s official Facebook page, posted in Italian, said the avalanche risk meant “it is better to proceed to research with sophisticated electronic flight systems”.
However, Stefano Pontecorvo, the Italian ambassador to Pakistan, tweeted that the drone search had not been possible so far “for a number of reasons including poor weather”.
Climbers who know Ballard have expressed hope that the two will be found, citing their extensive experience, a message echoed by his sister Kate on Facebook on Thursday, urging: “Please all believe and trust that they will be OK.”
Plans for an initial search operation were prevented on Thursday when Pakistan closed its airspace after it shot down two Indian military planes, but two Pakistani army helicopters were eventually deployed.
The alarm was raised earlier this week after Ballard and Nardi had failed to make contact since Sunday during their attempt to climb Nanga Parbat in winter.
Txikon, who is being brought in with two fellow team members including a doctor, was part of a group that made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 with the Pakistani climber Ali Sadpari, who arrived at base camp on Thursday.
Ballard is one of the world’s strongest winter climbers and was the first person to climb all six of the major Alpine north faces solo in a single winter.
He is the son of Alison Hargreaves, the British climber who in 1995 became the first woman to reach the summit of Everest without a support team or supplemental oxygen. She died a few months later attempting an ascent of K2.
A Pakistani military helicopter flight on Thursday failed to find the missing pair, who were attempting to climb the mountain by the Mummery Rib, named after the Briton Albert Mummery, who disappeared on the mountain in 1895 during one of the first serious attempts on an 8,000-metre peak.
The flight did spot an orange tent, largely buried in snow, at a site lower than the men’s last reported position and apparently not on their planned route.
The planned deployment of the drones came as a group of Russian climbers on K2, who had initially said they would help in the search, apparently withdrew the offer due to the high avalanche risk.
The pair’s last known position was close to 6,300 metres, between Camp 4 and Camp 3, according to Nardi’s wife, who received a satellite phone call from him on 22 February.
The events leading to the search for Ballard have inevitably suggested echoes of the death of his mother, Alison Hargreaves, on neighbouring K2 24 years ago, when he was six.
Like his mother, Ballard had soloed all the six major Alpine north faces in a single season, although Ballard had climbed them in winter, with both mother and son having been driven around the Alps by Hargreaves’ husband, and Ballard’s father, Jim Ballard.
An outstanding and ambitious mountaineer, Ballard had early on expressed an interest in following in his mother’s footsteps on the world’s highest mountains, although he was persuaded to abandon early plans to attempt K2 in winter and solo.
Regarded by his peers as one of the world’s best Alpinists, Ballard’s previous Himalayan experience, however, was limited to one other expedition.
The two climbers arrived at the mountain in late December, according to Ballard’s sponsor Montane, a climbing clothing manufacturer.
“They will be hoping to climb the infamous Mummery Spur – named after Albert F Mummery, who in 1895 led the first attempt to climb the mountain,” the company wrote. He died on the mountain while scouting a path.”
“His intended line remains unclimbed to this day,” the company added.