On 13th July 2018, around 8:15am, Pemba Sherpa disappeared down a crevasse above Camp-I (around 5750m). He was on his way back from the summit of Saser Kangri IV (7416m) with four other climbers.
Between 13th July and 15th July, efforts by the team members and Sherpas proved fruitless. The leader of this expedition Basanta Singha Roy, who had earlier left Base Camp, and was down below at the road-head during the accident, said in his post-expedition interview, that the whole team, having given up all hope of rescue/recovery, evacuated the BC on 15th July. *
Between 15th July and 31st July, 2018, a sustained effort of recovery was again made by Indian Armed Forces comprising of soldiers from the ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police) and Siachen Battle School (SBS reached on 24th July).
Despite interruptions due to inclement weather, they did manage to climb down as far as possible till the crevasse became too narrow to negotiate.
Unfortunately, their valiant efforts proved unsuccessful and they did not find any trace of Pemba Sherpa, but they did manage to recover his loaded Rucksack weighing about 35kgs. The belongings are to be handed over to the bereaved family.
An exclusive source from ITBP reports, "the SBS team reached on 24th July. They went down into the crevasse as far as possible to the point beyond which the crevasse was not negotiable. A rucksack packed with ropes, gears etc. was recovered. The firmly stuck rucksack was found with its straps broken; probably breaking free from Pemba's Shoulder as it got stuck and Pemba kept falling due to gravity."
After a thorough search, the recovery team left on 31st July. They presume that Pemba must have slipped right down to the bottom of the glacier, and was carried away by the large volume of water flowing below the glacier.
In an exclusive conversation with Dream Wanderlust, a member of this recovery team talks about the operation with exclusive video of the same.
Pemba Sherpa's icy tomb tragically leaves behind just a "patch of blue", the sky and his rucksack.
Q: Can you please tell us the details of the events?
A: There were two teams from West Bengal and Pune who went back. Soldiers of Indian Army undergoes a training at Siachen Battle School where rescue teams are available. Then the members of ITBP team was present at the Base Camp as well. I was at the Base Camp then, Indian Army informed that they had to rescue one body which the expedition team could not. The rucksack was recovered (that, apparently, had two rope and various other objects inside it).
Q: You have said that the team has recovered the rucksack. Any clue where the body might be at?
A: It must have gone deep down. We could not find any trace of it at all.
Q: How far did the recovery team go down?
A: The rescue team had gone down up to the point where they found the rucksack. They could not even adjust their grip of the crampons after that point. So, whatever they had done, that was through the ropes.
Q: Could you be specific about the date?
A: I am not so sure of the date. Though I can find that out if I trace the images back. It took place on 31st July 2018, as I can see.
Q: How many people were there in the team?
A: There were 5 members in total. I did not go with them. I went earlier, but not with the Army.
Q: On 15th July, ITBP team was there at the Base Camp. Did they refuse to help in the rescue?
A: No, it is not. Firstly, without the permission of our higher authority, we are not allowed to go for any rescue operation. They requested us to help on 14th July evening. Nevertheless, we did support them with the ropes and anything that was necessary at that point. Even we made sure that we fed them before they climbed up.
A: Meanwhile, on 15th July, we also received the order from our higher authority to start the rescue operation.
Q: We also heard that your team was ready to initiate the rescue operation along with the expedition team after receiving orders, but the expedition team refused to take help from you. Is that true?
A: No, the thing is they (expedition team) could not even grip the crampons during their rescue. That is how they comprehended that the rescue is not possible at all. The trail was so slippery that he could not go further down at all. Then they decided to go back.
Q: So, this happened on 15th July. What made the recovery team wait for 15 days to restart the operations on 31st July?
A: No, our initial phase of investigation resulted nothing. And the weather was not favourable.
Q: What happened after that?
A: The rucksack was recovered.
Q: Which date did they find this rucksack? Was it on 31st July?
A: On 31st July itself.
Q: Apart from the rucksack, could they find any other belongings?
A: Everything that was inside the sack. There were ropes. It was pretty heavy though.
Q: How much did it weigh?
A: It would be more than 35 Kilograms.
Q: What are the things found inside it?
A: There is a wireless phone, gears, ropes etc.
Q: Is the rucksack in good condition?
A: No, the straps are broken. It seems he might have detached from the sack as it got stuck in the crack during the fall.
Q: Were there any arrangements for sending these belongings to his family back home?
A: There was a discussion about handing it all to his parents. Though I am not sure whether it has been sent back or not.
Q: Then where is it right now?
A: Most likely, it is under the supervision of Indian Army or they might have sent it back to his family. I am not sure about it though.
Q: Thank you. We have received your video. After 31st July, was there any more recovery operation taken place?
A: No, nothing has happened after that.
Q: Could you guess at what depth was the rucksack found?
A: Could be more than 10-12 meters.
Q: Why could nobody go down further?
A: It was too narrow to go further down.
Q: What might have happened to his body?
A: Probably, his body went too far down in the river water. It might be the reason how it become completely untraceable.
Photo and Video Courtesy: ITBP
* Though we had earlier reported that the ITBP team of Plataue Peak expedition had carried out search operation on 14th, July as per the telephonic conversation with Md. Hasan, OC Panamik PS has now been found unsubstantiated.
This news was revised on 15-08-2018