Where Eagles Dare: How Pakistan Army’s “Fearless Five” Rescued Russian Mountaineer From 20,650 Feet

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JUL 31, 2018: Tuesday afternoon Army Chief Gen Bajwa visited Russian mountaineer Alexander Gukov at Combined Military Hospital (CMH) in the garrison city of Rawalpindi after Alex was rescued from the killer mountains.

The Russian climber was stranded at 20,650 feet high Latok Peak in Biafo Galcier in the country’s northern region — his expedition buddy Sergey had died several days earlier.

The Russian Climber was struck on Latok Top since 25 Jul and had exhausted his supplies since last 3 days . 7 rescue attempts were made between 26-30 July but due to snow clouds the climber couldn’t be located/rescued.

The Pakistan Army Aviators “Fearless Five” (unit motto) conducted a daring helicopter operation early Tuesday morning to rescue Alex, the lone survivor of the expedition to the Karakorum peak.

“The unprecedented rescue mission was undertaken by Pakistan Army aviation helicopters under extreme weather conditions, making it the first ever rescue from such a height in Pakistan,” the ISPR said.

Gukov had been stuck on Latok Top since July 25 and had exhausted his supplies three days ago. At least seven rescue attempts had been made between 26 to 30 July, but due to snow clouds, the climber could not be located and rescued, the ISPR said.

Fearless Five vs Nature

After persevering and putting their lives in danger for two consecutive days, the pilots of 5th Army Aviation High Altitude Squadron proved once again that they are amongst the best by rescuing Alex Gukov through sling operation at 6300m. Nature finally backed off.

The weather cleared up during the night. Tuesday morning it was mostly blue skies with some clouds hanging around Latok. And this is what tilted the balance in favor of the brave pilots of the Fearless Five. However they had to fight strong winds at 6300m during the sling operation.

The formation (2 X Écureuil B3s) took off from Skardu Army Aviation Base (AAB) at 0455 hours and arrived at Latok Base Camp (BC) around 0530 hours. They passed by Jhola Camp to lighten down the helis. At Latok BC, the pilots decided to first run a search mission to identify the exact location of Alex. The fixed line was connected to the B3s at the BC (but the sling was kept inside the heli) and the helis took off for the mission at around 0545hours. Fuel was taken off at BC to lighten the helis and make a fuel depot at the BC to be used later for rescue attempts during this operation.

The Écureuils went up the mountain and flew for around 45 minutes at 6300m before spotting Alex on a narrow ridge. Due to heavy snowing, the orange tent was under snow.

The plan for the first attempt was to spot Alex and recce the terrain before coming down to BC and then going back up again for the extraction mission with the right fuel load. However, once Alex was spotted, the B3s had enough fuel left to attempt one sling operation. The pilots decided to go for it.

The weather was good but the strong winds were constantly creating turbulence for the B3s. It was difficult free-air hovering with these strong winds at that altitude. However, for once Nature was helping them out. The outside temperature was -8 degrees and this helped them free-air hover at 6300m (according to their calculations, ideally they needed -10 degrees). In the last couple of days, the temperature was much higher.

One heli threw the sling hovering close to the ridge. The other B3 was hovering right behind him giving adjustment instructions about sling end with D ring to the lead heli. Thus the two B3s worked in tandem. After trying for 15 minutes, Alex finally managed to get hold of the sling and connected the D ring to his harness. The heli flying back confirmed the safe engagement and instructed the lead heli to pull off with Alex attached. The fuel level was getting critically low by then. However, it was touch and go as Alex had forgotten to remove his anchor to the mountain. Thus he found himself connected to the sling of the B3 on one end and Latok to the other as the mountain refused to let him go. The pilots were extremely lucky as Alex’s Latok anchor finally gave away releasing him. The B3s pulled out and brought Alex to safety at the BC from where he was taken directly to CMH Skardu.

He is in a good strong shape and doctors at CMH are taking good care of him. Alex’s expedition buddy Sergey rests in peace in the mountain where the two dared to go.

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