Saving Chief Mate Gukov
On the fourth or fifth day, when it seemed that no one but Julia, Ovchinnikov and me believed in saving Gukov, Andrey asked “Why are you doing this? Don’t you understand that they will crucify you later?”
When everything turns out well, everybody likes you (well, almost everybody). For a couple of days, you even like yourself. Whether you made right or wrong decisions at that time, your actions yielded the desired result. But no one knows ahead of time how rescues will end.
If Gukov hadn’t returned, Internet sewers would be bursting with righteous anger, listing obvious and solely correct steps that you didn’t make – it was so clear from the start, they told you but you didn’t listen.
All your oversights will be uncovered, starting from the 5th grade of secondary school, all the bad habits, propensity to use obscenities and arrogant answers – these will all count against you.
So thank you, Gukov, for holding on for us.
July 25, Wednesday
Gukov: “Sergey fell down. I am alone on the wall with no gear. Two percent of battery left.”
Even now, my hands start shaking when I re-read this, just like they did then.
Julia: Anna, we have an SOS.
Waiting used to be simpler, smoother. A guy would go on an expedition for two months, neither hide nor hair. You would receive two letters, the second one after his return. And now? They were joking with you yesterday and sent an SOS today.
- - I see it.
- - What do we do?
- - Don’t distract.
- - Ok. Should I call the insurance company?... Anna, dear, please say something.
Julia is perfectly self-possessed. It was the only time of all rescues when she lost control.
July 25 is the Election Day in Pakistan. All military staff is busy.
Tomaz had a satellite phone. Hope was waning, and at one point he even said goodbye to the Slovenian people almost via a live broadcast, everyone was crying, he was weeping. But after dawn on the seventh day good weather suddenly set in and the helicopter was able to fly.
- - Vadim Viktorovich, it’s very bad. Sanya is alone on the wall with no gear.
- - If it’s impossible to land there, do we need rescue climbers?
- - Yes, there are Slovenians and the English right in the Base Camp but we will hardly persuade them – it’s like rushing into hell. Is it certain a helicopter cannot lift him off?
- - I’ll make some calls.
- - In 2005, the Slovenian mountaineer Tomaz Humar was rescued from the wall of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. He was climbing solo and got trapped on Rupal Wall at the height of about 6000m, like Sanya is now, he couldn’t move up or down for five more days. The weather was terrible.
I could have confused the details, but that’s not the point.
And they had this kind of suspended system: the Pakistani fashioned a chair out of rope. I will send you a deion of this operation and pilots’ names in English to forward these to the Pakistani.
Just a couple of minutes later:
I call Evgeny. I don’t want him to learn about it from a text message. Evgeny is out of range. I post a message on his feed: “Evgeny, call me back!”
- - Anna, you need to write to Victor that Askari is sending a helicopter again. He needs to be ready to fly. I asked the tourist operator to help find rescuers at the site, from among other mountaineers.
- - Victor is ready. We need a helicopter with an external fixed line. Victor says you cannot approach the wall because of rockfall. But even without rockfall, it would take a week to climb.
- - Is Sergey alive?
What did we know then? Very little. Gukov is stuck on the wall. He has no gear. We didn’t know that he had a tent and some ropes. Or that Sergey caught the drоpped supplies. Or that Sanya had gas and a little food.
We knew the battery could drain at any moment, so we tried not to litter communications with excessive questions not to drain it right now and for good. We didn’t know why he hadn’t sent information about Sergey to everyone. It will later turn out that Sanya did this by mistake.
The helicopter returned to the base. Like they needed additional equipment and people, they assured us the departure would be on schedule. And that’s when the weather got worse.
V.V. Zaytsev: The helicopter is not leaving for the time being. Bad weather set in. They are waiting for it to change. I’ll write to you.
- - Alexander, any info on Sergey?
- - I cannot see Sergey. I am at the station.
- - The helicopter departed from Skardu, wait for it.
Pilots are writing that they are ready, at the starting point, that they will try, weather permitting. Gukov is writing the weather is great where he is. Koval is waiting on the glacier. Parfenov and Markevich are going to the wall to look for Sergey.
Begging is always very shameful, even if it’s not for yourself. Calling, asking the same questions, persuading is shameful.
Begging is always hard. Especially when you receive a polite negative in response. And you overcome your queasiness and fake it like an odd fish: where are these doors, we will bust them open.
- - Oh, I’ve heard it so many times. Should I tell Victor to go to the base? Vadim Viktorovich, we need the helicopter today. Tomorrow the weather can be absolutely horrible.
- - I will involve the military as well.
Vadim Viktorovich, Alexey, thank you for taking on the hardest part.
V.V. Zaytsev: The helicopter will not fly, they explain it with bad weather and poor visibility. We are trying to work through our military attache’s office. Askari refused to do anything today.
- - Vadim Viktorovich, the weather is very good where Sanya is stuck. Sorry if I am being too insistent but he won’t hold on there for long. Aren’t there any other options? Victor also says the weather is great.
Victor writes that the night will come in an hour, the heli will not fly, better do it in the morning for sure, and have a fixed line and a crew that knows how to use it.
- - Okay. Sanya lost spirit.
- - Let him hold on. Can he move? How many hours can he survive?
- - A very limited time. He wrote that he was hanging, which means his legs may fall asleep.
- - What about cold?
- - The sun is down. It will be cold at night, though not extremely cold, a little below zero but he has no tent or anything. The guys seem to have calculated where he is hanging but not exactly. Sergey was not found.
- - Maybe he is alive? We are working.
- - Sanya has 1 percent battery left on his Iridium.
- - I see. I’ll be in touch.
Oh sure. Such helicopters and pilots are abundant in Pakistan. Just pick up the phone and dial the number.
- - Okay, we’ll try to find someone.
- - Sanya, the weather turned bad.
- - The weather is great where I am!
- - It’s bad in Skardu. They will not fly today. Remember Elisabeth Revol on Nanga, remember Julia and the kids. Hold on till tomorrow.
Whew! He has a tent. I call Valery Shamalo.
- - I am on a shelf in a tent. Waiting till tomorrow.
- - The departure is scheduled for six a.m. Remember to unhook from the anchor before the takeoff!!! Humar almost crashed the heli because he forgot.
Valery: “You can actually wait for a long time in a tent.”
Of course we never thought that Sanya would spend seven days and six nights in it.
When we were kids we had this problem of choice, pretty cruel for children, but okay for Soviet ones: say Fascists come and let you decide who gets to live – will you choose your Mum or Dad? Will you let them shoot your brother or yourself? Are you ready to sacrifice your life for saving the formation?
It’s easy to sacrifice your life. Here is a machine gun, block it with your body and you are a hero like Matrosov, and the whole platoon survives. Not worth a thought.
Reality is much more mundane. You have plans, obligations, tickets, work, business and there is someone out there who is less busy. There is always someone.
No one is ready to invest their time.
In the evening, Evgeny called Julia. I don’t know what words she found to tell him about it. His little brother died, a close person whom he saw grow up.
At ten p.m. Alexey Ovchinnikov contacted me in the messenger:
- - I cannot reach Evgeny. Do you know if their parents are alive?
- - Only the mother. Sergey said they were brought up by their grandfather.
- - Do you have their contact info?
- - No, but we were in touch with Nina in VKontakte social network. She flew to France to her parents, there is something wrong with her SIM card, her mobile is off.
- - Who is Nina?
- - Sergey’s wife.
- - He was married?!
- - Julia, don’t tell anyone yet that Sergey died. Let’s wait for Evgeny to get online. Let it be him who tells mother and Nina. It will be the right way. I wouldn’t want them to learn such news from the Internet. We’ll write tomorrow.
On July 26, we posted information on Sergey’s death. Pilots confirmed after the flyover that they had seen his body.
- - My phone is playing up. The SIM card is not working for some reason. I’ve just gotten online. It’s a great tragedy, of course, I’m lost for words.
Maybe we should post the news on this situation after all? Since the relatives already know.
- - The wife doesn’t. He just got married.
- - I see. Then it’s your call.
- - She is in France, her SIM card is not working. We will write in the morning – there is no hurry any longer. Let them learn about it from each other and get through at least one night without the Internet hell.
His mother and Nina learnt about it from the news.
Life is more complicated that simple ethics.
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