Estonian climbers saved by chance

Eesti mägironijate grupp Pamiiris

PHOTO: Oliver Liiv

A helicopter that should have been carrying Estonian mountain climbers went down in the Pamirs at around 7 p.m. the day before yesterday. Latest information suggests the accident cost the lives of two pilots and three climbers.

Six Estonian mountaineers, led by Katrin Merisalu, are climbing in the Pamirs in Tajikistan. Members of the group announced on their Facebook page K&K Pamiir 2018 yesterday that a helicopter went down in the mountains that the Estonians had missed purely by chance.

Four members of the group should have been on the flight: Katrin Merisalu, Tannar Esna, Oliver Liiv and Sven Illing who are still at the base camp. The remaining two members have already left the mountains.

The post reads that the helicopter went down 14 kilometers from the Estonians’ position ten minutes after takeoff.

“There were supposed to be two flights. 14 + 14 people. We were supposed to be on the first flight, but because I came down from the mountain later, we were bumped to the second flight. I remember we were very upset about it,” the post says.

“What we know for sure is that seven people have been taken to hospital in Dushanbe. Whether this means the remaining eight are okay or “gone” remains unclear,” Merisalu explained.

Rescue work was said to be extremely difficult due to heavy snowfall on the previous night and the fact the helicopter was white.

The chopper crashed on a narrow plateau at the height of 4,529 meters which means it is likely inaccessible via helicopter and rescuers will have to climb there. Several passengers of the crashed helicopter were known to the Estonian climbers.

“A Spaniard who had been at the summit with me was on it. And a married couple from St. Petersburg with whom I shared my tent. And another Russian group we were supposed to meet and celebrate with in Dushanbe,” the post read.

It has been established by now that the crash produced five casualties: two pilots and three alpinists. Merisalu said that the accident did not interfere with Estonians’ climbing plans.

The group had already climbed Peak Ismail Somoni at 7,495 meters and Peak Korzhenevskaya at 7,105 meters and were scheduled to leave base camp on the fateful flight.

The Estonians and other climbers will be brought down from the mountains after rescue efforts have been concluded using the same military helicopters as the one that crashed.

“Leaving base camp on foot is virtually impossible as it would require a very difficult mountain hike of approximately eight days,” Merisalu explained. She added that the rescue operation is being monitored by President Emomali Rahmon because 2018 has been declared the year of tourism in Tajikistan and there is great state-level interest in tourist safety.