An Unfinished Story

of The 'Avoidable Tragedy', Everest Spring 2016

Dream Wanderlust

Category: Featured Article
Date of Publication: Aug 28 , 2017Vol-03 Issue-02


In May 2016, a team of four climbers from West Bengal, India, were part of an Everest expedition via South Col route, Nepal. Their tragic tale was published here in Jan 2017. Even after the ashes of the three who perished, high on Everest, have long been washed down the Ganges and the sole survivor is bravely coping with her post-traumatic life, the story remains unfinished.

We have relentlessly tracked all leads, seeking verifiable answers to uncover the real story and unmask an attempt at "suppressio veri" and "suggestio falsi", indulged in by the Agency and its Sherpas, Liasion Officer, Team leader, a section of the Media and certain commentators.

We are thankful to: Prof (Dr.) George W Rodway, Dr. Deep Das, Dr. Pawan Agarwal, Dr. Rupak Bhattacharya, Paul Pottinger, Nima Gombu Sherpa, Sunita Hazra, Debasish Ghosh and Chandana Ghosh.

We give below the results of our investigation.

Team

The climbers: Goutam Ghosh, Subhas Paul, Paresh Nath and Sunita Hazra
The Sherpas: Beer Bahadur Gurung (Bishnu), Mingma Tamang, Pashang Nuru, Lakhpa Sherpa and Thile Sherpa
The Agency: Trekking Camp Nepal (via Loben Agency)

SUNITA HAZRA

GOUTAM GHOSH

PARESH NATH

SUBHAS PAUL

BEER BAHADUR GURUNG (BISHNU)

MINGMA TAMANG

PASHANG NURU

LAKHPA SHERPA

THILE SHERPA (Cook at Camp-2)


A brief recap of events

(Based on inputs from the climbers linked to incidents. For details visit here.)

Subhas Paul:

20 May 19:30hrs- started for summit from south col (7905 m).

21 May, Morning - got separated from other team members with team.

21 May, 13:20hrs (approx.) - reached summit with Lakhpa Sherpa.

21 May, Evening - got separated from his Sherpa near Balcony (8400 m). Climbers going up saw him descending alone. Sunita (while descending) saw him alone, without oxygen, descending below Balcony.

22 May, Early morning - IMG climbers at South Col camp heard him screaming.

22 May, Late Morning - IMG climbers rescued him, brought him to tent, united with his Sherpas.

22 May, Afternoon - on way down to Camp-3 died at Geneva spur (as per his Sherpa's version).

Paresh Nath:

20 May, 19:30hrs - started for summit from South Col with team.

21 May, Morning - below Balcony his sherpa Mingma Tamang was not with him.

21 May, 8:00hrs - at/above Balcony his team mates advised him to go down.

21 May, 18:30hrs - much below Balcony Sunita (On her way down) found him descending alone without oxygen.

21 May, Night - climbers going up found him in a hypoxic state.

22 May, Afternoon - members of Indian NCC team on their way back from the summit still found him alive.

22 May, Night - NCC Sherpas rescued him to their tent at South Col.

23 May, Early morning - passed away inside tent.

Sunita Hazra:

20 May, 19:30hrs - started for summit from South Col with team.

21 May, 8:00hrs - near Balcony realised that Subhas, his Sherpa and Mingma Tamang (Paresh's Sherpa) were not with them and waited for about 2 hours. Advised Paresh to go down, Self continued climb.

21 May, 10:30hrs - just above Balcony found that her Sherpa Pasang is not with her.

21 May, 12:00hrs - reached South Summit (8,749 m) with Beer Bahadur Gurung.

21 May, 15:45hrs - Beer Bahadur Gurung reached summit (photo evidence) Sunita says, she and Goutam also summitted (no photo evidence).

21 May, Evening - descended below South summit met Pashang Sherpa. Around Balcony Beer Bahadur and Pasang left her. Below Balcony descended alone without oxygen. Somewhere below Balcony met Paresh and Subhas.

21 May, Night - climbers going up saw her coming down alone. From somewhere above South Col Leslie John Binns rescued her and brought her to South Col camp.

22 May, Morning - Leslie handed her over to her own team sherpas. She found Subhas with her team Sherpas inside tent.

22 May, Night - descended to Camp-3 with frost bitten fingers, alone most of the way.

23 May, Morning - heli-rescued from just above Camp-2.

Goutam Ghosh:

20 May, 19:30hrs - started for summit from South Col with team.

21 May, 8:00hrs - Balcony, waited for nearly 2 hours for other climbers.

21 May, 12:00hrs - South Summit with Sunita and Beer Bahadur Gurung.

21 May, 15:45hrs - Beer Bahadur Gurung reached summit (photo evidence). Sunita says, Goutam and she also summitted (no photo evidence).

21 May, Evening - got left behind. Sunita, Beer Bahadur descend ahead of him.

22 May, Early hours - climbers going up saw him near Balcony sitting alone without oxygen.

22 May, Uncertain hours - passed away.

Summit Claims based on initial report by Leader/Agency/Liaison Officer

Sunita Hazra (Denied)
Goutam Ghosh (Denied)
Paresh Nath (Denied)
Subhas Paul (Accepted)

New evidence uncovered over the last one year

1

The initial report given by the agency gave an unsatisfactory account of events and denied the summit claims of Goutam and Sunita. They have now submitted a revised report, expressing regret for the earlier report, claiming they were not aware of the full details earlier. They also affirm that the earlier report was based on the version of the Sherpas, who had actually abandoned the climbers leaving them to perish.

Revised report (photocopy a portion of the 1st page) submitted by the Agency

2

Liaison officer, Ram Prasad Bhusual, also submitted his statutory report to Nepal Tourism, Government of Nepal, in May 2016. But he was not present at Base Camp during the expedition, a fact confirmed on record by Base Camp manager Buddhi. So the bona fides and validity of his report is questionable.

3

The "on paper" leader of this team was Mr. Jichol Cha, a Korean, who summited with his Korean Team on 15th May, 2016. He never met the members of the ill-fated team while on the mountain. He also never met the sole survivor Sunita, while she was hospitalized at Kathmandu. Yet, he submitted his initial statutory report regarding these climbers.
He has subsequently submitted a revised report to Nepal Tourism, praying to reconsider the summit claims of Goutam and Sunita.

Revised report (photocopy a portion) submitted by the Leader

4

Very strangely, the Nepal Tourism Dept. did not think it necessary to talk to the sole survivor Sunita, to ascertain the reasons behind this tragedy while she was at Kathmandu, though their own officers have called this 'a man-made disaster'.

5

The chief Sherpa, Beer Bahadur Gurung, was climbing with Goutam and Sunita on Summit day. He has since then gone incommunicado, and all efforts by us to contact him have failed. Even the agency has failed to help us to get in touch with him, a development we find extremely strange and suspicious.

6

Beer Bahadur Gurung, who was carrying Goutam's still camera, reached the summit. He has photographs to prove it. The same chip (memory card) shows Goutam and Sunita at/near South Summit in earlier photographs.
Strangely, the chip also shows that two photos have been deleted, a fact which has also been confirmed by the Cyber Crime Branch of Kolkata Police. They also state that two were deleted and some others were edited well before it was handed over to the family members of Goutam by members of the West Bengal Mountaineering and Adventure Sports Foundation, who were assisting in the recovery.

(From L-R) 1st Sunita approaching South Summit photographed by Beer Bahadur/Goutam from behind (12:34hrs, May 21)
2nd Goutam at/near South Summit photographed by Beer Bahadur (13:49hrs, May 21)
3rd and 4th Photographs were deleted from the camera
5th and 6th Self-photographed by Beer Bahadur Gurung at the summit of Everest (14:37-14:45hrs, May 21)

7

Almost a year later, a screenshot from a video clip shot by Paul Pottinger with his GoPro camera was published. It shows Pashang Nuru Sherpa climbing alone far ahead of his client Sunita on 21, May 2016 at 10:28 hours at an altitude of 8699m (50m below South Summit). However, his client Sunita was still (most likely) just above the Balcony (~8450m) at that point in time. For details visit Paul Pottinger's Blog.
Paul Pottinger "According to my video, I passed that climber (whom I am pretty sure is Pashang Nuru) at 10:28 AM. According to my InReach GPS track, this was approximately 28,540 feet. As you can see from the video we have shared, he was about 6 minutes behind Subhas as I descended." - PAUL POTTINGER (Climber, Member of IMG Hybrid Expedition Everest 2016).

Pashang Nuru Sherpa ascending alone (Courtesy: Paul Pottinger)

8

Goutam's body was recovered and brought down on May 2017. A video camera was found on him. The (probably) last recorded and re-playable clip shot by Goutam shows him to be at or just beyond the South Summit, and the Hilary Step and final summit ridge can be clearly identified.


This video was analysed by an experienced Sherpa and two Medical Specialists and their opinions are given below:

Location:
NIMA GOMBU SHERPA "I have checked the video. It was taken between Hillary step and South Summit. It will take around 1 hr. to reach Summit from here." - NIMA GOMBU SHERPA (Climbed Everest 16 times).

Time: The video was shot at 02:29:56PM, 22 May*, 2016 as is set by the camera time.

* Camera set at wrong date. Should have been 21 May.

Other Climbers seen:
(1) Two climbers on the summit ridge are visible.
(2) A climber in Pink-yellow Jacket returning (coming towards South Summit from Summit).
(3) Beer Bahadur Gurung.

Screenshot from the video recorded by Goutam

Screenshot from the video recorded by Goutam

Possible physical conditions:

DR. DEEP DAS

DR. DEEP DAS M.D., D.M.
(Consultant Neurologist)

"I understand that this video has been shot at around 8700 m., on Everest, and the subject was breathing supplementary Oxygen."
"On analysing the sequence where the subject is taking his own video, I feel that his neurological status was stable at that point of time, where he was thinking logically and his hand, eye and brain co-ordination was satisfactorily preserved, as evidenced by his handling of his camera and panning the entire sequence."

DR. PAWAN AGARWAL

DR. PAWAN AGARWAL M.R.C.P.
(Respiratory Medicine and Critical Care Specialist)

"I understand that this video has been shot at around 8700 m., on Everest, and the subject was breathing suplementary Oxygen."
"Looking at the video clip, the gentleman was not cyanosed nor was he hyperventilating. He did not appear to be unduly tachypnoeic and there did not appear to be symptoms suggestive of significant hypoxyaemia."

DR. RUPAK BHATTACHARYA

DR. RUPAK BHATTACHARYA
(Doctor and Former Mountaineer)

"I have seen the video clip, and I have been explained the relevant background of the same.I have also read the inferences drawn from this video by Dr. Deep Das and Dr. Pawan Agarwal.
My Views regarding the same are as follows:

I agree with the evaluations made by these specialists. They have rightly restricted themselves to their area of specialization. But it should be realized that for the brain to function adequately it should have an adequate supply of oxygen which is a result of the Lungs functioning normally.

His "Brain functions" are adequately normal which can be seen by his "deliberate" camera movement to take a panoramic shot, to "purposefully" frame and shoot his own photo, raising his dark glasses so that his eyes are visible, making certain he is "identified". These are all signs that his brain is giving "logical" orders, which his muscles are being able to carry out to "satisfaction". In other words he does not exhibit any signs of HACE at that point in time. High Altitude Cerebral Edema(HACE) is characterized by varying degrees of altered consciousness, confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, lassitude and erratic behaviour. The subject does not exhibit any of these symptoms at that point in time.

His "lung function", on supplementary Oxygen, appears commensurate to his work status, and he does not show signs that he is "starving" for air. He is not breathing at a very rapid rate (tachypnoea), nor is he breathing very deeply (hyperventilating). His peripheral tissues are adequately oxygenated as evidenced by the pink colour of his nails and lips and absence of any blueness (cyanosis, hypoxyaemia). In other words, he does not exhibit any signs of HAPE at that point in time.
High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE) is characterized by breathing difficulty, fast rate of breathing, cough and blueness of lips, fingers and tongue. The subject does not exhibit any of these symptoms at that point in time.

Hypothetically speaking, if I were NOT to take into account the time of the event, the altitude and the difficulty of the climb ahead, the supply of supplementary oxygen, the time needed to return to camp, and the subject's climbing ability, I see no reason why the subject cannot carry on with his climb, as he apparently seems fit to do so, at that point in time."

9

Finally, a post mortem examination was carried out of Goutam's remains at the Department of Forensic Medicine at Institute of Medicine, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Abridged report given below:

Page 1 & 4 of the post mortem report

This was analysed by the renowned American Everester and Mountaineer and High-Altitude Physiology and Pathology Scientist GEORGE W RODWAY and his report is as follows:

GEORGE RODWAY

"I see only a couple of post-mortem items that catch my eye - congested kidneys and congested lungs. Not quite sure what to make of the renal findings, as I doubt that was directly involved in death at high altitude (more likely evidence of acute kidney injury from severe dehydration). But the fluid on the lungs could, of course, be suggestive of high altitude pulmonary edema, which as you know can be a real killer.

He clearly would have run out of supplemental O2 at some point on his descent given the timings of his ascent /descent. Why he was so slow is difficult to speculate about, but given that he left camp 4 at about 2000 on 20 May, 2016, and was seen at 8749m at 1200 the next day, he would have been back to camp 4 by late afternoon (at the latest) if things had been going well. Clearly, things were not going well for him. All told, I'd say he was moving pretty slowly both up and down, and I suspect he may have run out of supplemental O2 fairly high on the peak. That would have not only worsened his general physical condition, but would have made HAPE even more likely. And no doubt he was probably extremely dehydrated during much of the summit "day".

So, perhaps this was a case of exhaustion/dehydration/HAPE. Often death at high altitude is, in fact, a combination of such factors. Many things are waiting to kill the climber in that sort of hostile environment. And as someone who is familiar not only with high altitude pathology, but has actually climbed at these altitudes, I can attest to the fact that it is very easy to die up there. Small things can quickly add up and before you know it, you're past the point of no return.

In conclusion, the fact that the autopsy was done 12 months after death doesn't exactly make me exceedingly confident in the post-mortem findings. But given what we have to go on, this is my best assessment."

Points to ponder

1 It is mandatory to submit reports to Nepal Tourism Dept., Govt. of Nepal, after each expedition. These reports have to be separately given by i) The Leader ii) The Agency iii) The Liaison Officer. The validity and reliability of the original reports submitted by the Leader and the Agency were questionable and have subsequently been revised.

2 The liaison officer, who wrote his report in absentia making it invalid, will find it difficult to revise it, as he is a Government Official and any revision would prove his absence from Base Camp.

3 Was this duplicity regarding reports, though unpardonable, an error of omission or was it a premeditated error of commission?

4 Paresh and Subhas were both alive at South col though in a very poor state. What steps did the Agency Sherpas take to rescue and resuscitate them?

5 Even after the Sherpas realised Sunita's condition after she returned to South col, why did they allow her to go down alone to camp III, at least a major part of the route?

6 Beer Bahadur Gurung, who was climbing with Goutam and Sunita, reached the summit. Since he was with Goutam and Sunita he should have been the ideal witness, to clarify Goutam and Sunita's last position and status. But he has gone missing and all efforts to contact him have failed. His agency says," they cannot find him". Is this a concerted effort to hide him, and thus prevent the truth from being revealed? Why?

7 Who deleted the two photographs from Goutam's camera? When did they do it? Why did they do it? What were they trying to hide?

8 Since immediately after the expedition why was a well-orchestrated campaign carried out, by i) the Agency ii) a section of the Media iii) a few commentators in West Bengal, to prove that (a) these ill-fated climbers were physically unfit to climb Everest, (b) that Sunita and Goutam did not summit and (c) the Sherpas were not deficient with their support services?

Conclusions

We have been investigating this story relentlessly and this report is a partial culmination of our efforts. This report answers a few questions and raises many more. But what it definitely establishes is that there has been a well-orchestrated effort to not only suppress the truth (suppressio veri) but also to spread falsehood (suggestio falsi). The mala fide intentions of this campaign needs to be exposed, the individuals identified and only then shall the untold story be told.

This tragic tale deserves a closure. The unfinished story should be finished for the sake of the departed climbers and their family and friends, for the sake of the sole survivor to live in peace, for the sake of the mountaineering community so that such incidents are not repeated and surely for the sake of truth.

May truth triumph.

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