The group of Estonian mountain climbers started
rescue operations a couple of minutes after the avalanche in the
Khan-Tengri peak area. Now safely back in one of the Cholpan-Ata
pensions, Yaan Kyunnap, the leader of the ascent, spoke to a "Vecherka"
reporter about the tragic events, which took place on the morning on
- Climbers all over the world know that the temper of Khan-Tengri is
very fickle, - he said. It is quite common for avalanches to occur on
the ascent to the greatest peak of the planet. The ice slopes bear
witness to a lot of tragedies and accidents. However, this majestic and
terrible place draws extreme climbers and fortune hunters like a huge
Yaan Kyunnap is far from being a novice at mountain climbing. He was
awarded the "Snow Leopard" honorary title after conquering four
seven-thousand meter peaks. He has participated in numerous prestige
ascents and, as a photographer, has taken part in exhibitions in
eighteen different countries.
Based on long experience, the group of climbers had made several
important recommendations to reduce the danger on the more perilous
routes. For example, the ascent of Khan-Tegri should be started early
in the morning as the possibility of an avalanche occurring is minimal
at this time. Knowing this, several groups of climbers left the base
one after another.
Pure chance saved Yaan Kyunnap's team from certain death. According to
the established tradition, climbers take a cup of tea or coffee before
starting on their way. This time the ceremony was prolonged because
Priyt Yoozu accidentally overturned the simmering kettle. The ten or
fifteen minutes required to repeat the procedure became a gift of fate
to the ten climbers.
The avalanche fell at 5.05 am engulfing the Czech group and nearly
reaching the Estonians. They had time to take shelter under the huge
boulders and escape the lumps of ice rushing by. Like in a slow-motion
horror movie they saw tiny human figures swept away in the path of the
thundering ice wave.
A young Czech girl was the first to be taken out from the snow. Doctor
Priyt Melnik verified death. Nearby a climber up to his waist in snow
called for help. He was bleeding. At first the rescuers could not even
see his face for the injuries. Having dug him out, they made him as
comfortable as they could on the sleeping-bag. He was in severe shock.
Melnik administered a calming injection.
There were groans coming from further along the ice slope. The next
victim was rescued but his legs were damaged. At the scene of the
tragedy the climbers from Omsk and surviving members of the Czech group
did their best to save lives. Only the Estonian group had a portable
radio transmitter. It was already working at full power. Information
about the tragedy and a call for help was put on the air. After the
second portable radio transmitter started working Mikhail Mikhailov,
the director of the base, got in touch. He acted promptly, alerting the
group of rescuers, who arrived on the scene at 9.30am to start the
Yaan and his colleagues managed to prepare the helipad and jointly with
the Czechs and Russians took the victims to the vehicle. The search for
the rest of the snow-covered climbers was hindered by bad weather.
Plus, the detached ice shards were as hard as iron. It was difficult to
chisel the huge pieces by hand.
- But, please, don't make my story serve as bad press for Khan-Tengri,
- asked Mr. Kyunnap at the end of his story. What happened was an
accident and unfortunately no climber can insure himself against this.
Today the members of Estonian team, who experienced these terrible
events, are guests at Issyk Kul and are in good spirits. They admire
the beauty of mountain lake and try to forget their terrifying ordeal.
In reply to our question as to whether they will continue their
dangerous ascents, they unanimously said:
Sure, it is integral to our lives, isn't it?
Maybe there are lessons to be learnt from these courageous people, who
are so inspired by their passion and immeasurable love for the icy
peaks and who overcome challenges most of us never have to face. Even
at the expense of irreplaceable losses on the way up to the