Vanessa O’Brien Thinks the Nanga Parbat Rescue Could Have Climbed Higher to Save Tomasz Mackiewicz

Tweet shows Vanessa O'Brien thinks the Nanga Parbat rescue of Elisabeth Revol could have done more to save Mackiewicz.

In a controversial statement on Twitter, Vanessa O’Brien revealed that she felt the Nanga Parbat rescue volunteers could have climbed higher to retrieve Tomasz Mackiewicz.

On Friday, 26 January, Tomasz Mackiewicz and Elisabeth Revol made a successful assault on the summit of Nanga Parbat during their Winter Ascent Expedition. Prior to their attempt, Nanga Parbat had only been summited once in the winter in 2014.

During their descent, tragedy struck when Mackiewicz was affected by altitude sickness. He was suffering from snow blindness and severe frostbite. Revol made an attempt to save her partner and placed him inside a tent to weather a storm that had ambushed them.

Revol then proceeded to climb down further and made calls for help and stated the status of her partner.

The event led to an international effort to raise funds for a rescue mission, and members of a nearby K2 Winter Ascent team volunteered to make the rescue attempt on Nanga Parbat.

What occurred next, has become a week-long controversy with high-profile climbers like Vanessa O’Brien stating that the rescue mission could have done more to save Mackiewicz.

The accounts of the rescue mission vary; but from what we know, Revol climbed further down the mountain to meet the rescue team. She was then escorted down to Nanga Parbat Base Camp where she was airlifted to a hospital in Islamabad.

The rescue volunteer team went back to K2 to continue their expedition of a Winter Ascent on K2, which up until now has remained unconquered.

No effort was made to climb higher to reach Mackiewicz. Reports stated that the storm that had affected the two climbers above 25,000 ft (7620 m) had now become a barrier between the rescue team andMackiewicz. It was assumed that it would be too dangerous to attempt to save Mackiewicz given his physical condition, and the climber was pronounced dead on Saturday.

Vanessa O’Brien made a successful ascent on K2 in 2017. This was during an expedition that also included a separate expedition by Fredrick Sträng, a survivor of the 2008 K2 tragedy. On Twitter, she stated feverishly that she felt as though the rescue team could go higher to try and save Mackiewicz.

In another tweet, she questioned the use of the funds used for the rescue that was raised by donors from around the world, stating that Mackiewicz’s family should have the final say in whether an effort should be made to save him, not Revol. It had been reported that Revol made the decision to call off the rescue mission.

Leaving Behind Injured Climbers

A controversy surrounding whether or not it was appropriate for Vanessa O’Brien to state that rescuers could have done more to save Mackiewicz results from unwritten rules in mountaineering.

It is an unofficial rule to leave behind climbers who are considered to be incapable of making a climb down past a safety point where climbers can then a assist them further in making it to Base Camp. Specifically, within the death zone 8000-meters (26,247 ft) above sea level, it is virtually impossible to save anyone who has become immobile at those heights. The lack of oxygen, temperatures and conditions at those heights require each climber to depend on themselves to make it back down.

Attempting to drag someone down at these elevations who is basically considered “dead weight” can be a suicide mission for climbers trying to assist. This was the case during the 2008 K2 Disaster. Members of different expeditions, including Fredrik Sträng, tried to save Serbian climber Dren Mandić who had fallen from the bottleneck and was severely injured.

The rescue mission went tragically wrong, and while attempting to carry the body further down the mountain to provide Mandić with a proper burial, Pakistani climber Jehan Baig slid and fell. He was still hanging on to the ropes connecting the climbers to Mandić’s body. In an effort to not compromised the safety of the other climbers, he let go and fell off the face of the mountain. He was the second death during that climbing season, Mandić being the first.

During the 1996 Everest Disaster, multiple climbers were left behind after being considered too immobile to be saved. Yasuko Namba was left behind after becoming catatonic. Beck Weathers was also left behind on three separate occasions, with climbers believing he could not be dragged down without causing a safety hazard for other climbers. They also believed that he would not survive either way. Both were part of the Adventure Consultants team that also lost their founder, Rob Hall, one guide and one client, Andy Harris and Dough Hansen respectively.

Namba died, however, Weathers miraculously survived. He lost his hands and nose to frostbite in the process.

The Dangers of Nanga Parbat

Nanga Parbat is considered to be the “Killer Mountain.” The mountain has been responsible for the death of multiple qualified and high-profile climbers, including Alberto Zerain, who was killed in an avalanche along with his partner in the summer of 2017.

In February of 2019, Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi went missing while attempting a winter summit on Nanga Parbat. On 09 March, it was reported that their bodies had been found by Alex Txikon.

Nanga Parbat was also the site of the death of Günther Messner in 1970. Günther was the brother of famed climber Reinhold Messner. Although, according to Messner, a mountain can neither be evil nor kind. Therefore, it cannot be responsible for anyone’s death, “it’s just there.” Anything that occurs is simply a result of a successful or failed expedition.

Could More Have Been Done to Save Tomasz Mackiewicz?

It was reported that the remaining funds raised by international donors for the Nanga Parbat rescue would be given to Mackiewicz’s family.

Many onlookers felt that the claims made by Vanessa O’Brien were considered to be controversial. It could be interpreted in the sense that she was requesting for volunteers to do the impossible in a situation she, herself, was not in. Therefore, she could not know whether it was possible or impossible for her request to be completed.

report by The Daily Mail on 1 February stated that French climber Elisabeth Revol had been urged by her rescue party to leave Mackiewicz behind. O’Brien also tweeted this report.

The report stated:

“They made the decision to leave him behind after Revol reported the poor condition he was in when she last saw him. She said Mackiewicz, who turned 43 this month, had frostbitten hands and legs and face, no sense of time or space, was snow blind, and unable to move unassisted.”

Revol recounted her attempts to save her partner after successfully summiting Nanga Parbat. Shortly after, Mackiewicz had been stricken by snow blindness and Revol helped him descend and seek shelter from the storm.

However, after a night, she claims he was unable to move and had “blood streaming from his mouth,” a sign of high-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). It is a fatal form of altitude sickness if not treated promptly.

Revol says her rescuers told her to descend to 6,000-meters where they could save her and then they’d save Mackiewicz at 7,200-meters.

After descending, she found that no one was there to meet her, so she proceeded to seek shelter in a crevice where she became hypoxic, another form of high-altitude sickness where a person experiences hallucinations that often lead them to remove articles of clothing.

In her hallucinations, she saw people bringing her hot tea, and she said “thank you” by giving them her shoe. Revol spent five hours without footwear leading to her frostbite.

When the rescue team finally met her, she was told it would be unlikely that they could help Mackiewicz after she gave a description of her partner’s condition. Mackiewicz was pronounced dead, and the climbers headed down to Base Camp.

Whether or not Mackiewicz really could have been saved is something only the climbers know. At this point, it is too late to try and remedy the situation. Whether or not Vanessa O’Brien was out of line in making these accusations is also based on individual opinion.

O’Brien did fund the mission with €3,000.

Revol was flown to Switzerland and then France where she will have to undergo the amputation of her feet and fingers.

8 responses to “Vanessa O’Brien Thinks the Nanga Parbat Rescue Could Have Climbed Higher to Save Tomasz Mackiewicz

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