Helicopter pilots prepare to rescue Italian climber stranded on K2

Helicopter pilots were waiting for thick clouds to clear Tuesday so they could rescue an Italian mountaineer stranded on K2 after surviving an ice fall and exposure that left 11 other climbers presumed dead.

Italian Marco Confortola, who reached the summit of the world's second-highest mountain on Friday before the avalanche struck, was suffering frostbite but had climbed down on foot to relative safety.

Confortola reached Camp 1 at 19,000 feet (5,900 meters) helped by two Nepalese sherpas and an American climber, Roberto Manni, an alpine guide at base camp, told Italy's SKY TG 24 TV late Monday.

"He's rehydrating, he's eating a little and getting some oxygen," said Agostino Da Polenza of Everest-K2-CNR, an Italy-based high-altitude scientific research group that is helping with the rescue effort.

The mountaineer told his brother by satellite phone that his hands were fine but his feet were black from frostbite, Italy's ANSA news agency reported Monday.

"Anyway, I can walk and I want to descend to the base camp," Confortola was quoted as saying.

Cloudy weather forced officials to abort a helicopter rescue Monday. A Pakistan army spokesman, Maj. Farooq Firoz, said two choppers were waiting Tuesday morning to launch the rescue from Skardu, the town nearest to K2.

"The army's pilots are still waiting for an improvement in the weather conditions, and the moment they were allowed to fly, they will pick up the Italian mountaineer," he said.

The 28,250-foot peak (8,610-meter) peak lies near Pakistan's northern border with China. It is regarded by mountaineers as more challenging to conquer than Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. K2 is steeper, rockier and more prone to sudden, severe weather.

On Monday, helicopters plucked two frostbitten Dutch climbers from the mountain. Now, all of the up to 30 climbers who started the ascent of K2 on Friday are accounted for.

One of the Dutchmen, Wilco Van Rooijen, blamed mistakes in preparation for the final ascent - not just the avalanche - for one of mountaineering's worst disasters.

"Everything was going well to Camp Four, and on summit attempt everything went wrong," Van Rooijen told The Associated Press by phone on Monday from a military hospital where he was being treated for frostbitten toes.

Van Rooijen said advance climbers laid ropes in some of the wrong places, including in a treacherous gully known as "The Bottleneck," about 1,148 feet (350 meters) below the summit.

That caused hours of delays, so climbers only reached the summit just before nightfall. As the fastest mountaineers descended, a huge serac, or column of ice, fell. The ice swept away some of the ropes, making it even more dangerous for those caught above.

The Ministry of Tourism on Monday released a list of 11 climbers missing and believed dead: three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis and mountaineers from France, Ireland, Serbia and Norway.

Shaukat Zaman, a tourism ministry official, said they were all presumed dead. "Only some miracle can save any of them," he said.

Among the 11 are Gerard McDonnell, a teammate of van Rooijen and the first Irish person to reach the summit of K2.

Friend Pat Falvey said McDonnell's family "are holding up well and are very proud of Ger's achievement and are still in total shock in relation to the fact that he may not be coming back."

He said they did not expect to get McDonnell's body back.

"At high altitude at over 8,000 meters (26,250 feet), it is too dangerous to mount a rescue to have the bodies returned," Falvey said.

About 280 people have summited K2 since 1954, when it was first conquered by Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedell. Dozens of deaths have been recorded since 1939, most of them occurring during the descent.

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