The tragic story of Annapurna climbers Malaysian Wui Kin Chin, 49, and Nima Tshering Sherpa, 32, has captured global attention. Sadly, Dr. Chin passed away in a Singapore hospital on May 2, 2019. Cause of death has not been released but his death was attributed to injures he sustained while climbing Annapurna. He was flown from Kathmandu to Singapore by air ambulance two days earlier.
How Dr. Chin could go from summiting Annapurna at 8091-meter/26,545-feet with 30 other climbers and then being alone for over 40 hours a few hundred meters below the summit is difficult to understand. Dr. Chin was a very physically active man. He had climbed the 7 Summits and another 8000-meter peak, Manaslu. He had run 41 full marathons with the last one in 2014 for the New York Marathon where he completed the 26.2 miles in 4:55:01.
Nima Out of Hospital
But first an update on Nima Tshering Sherpa. When Chin became unconscious and stopped moving at 7,500-meters, Nima gave Chin his own oxygen at 5:00 pm and rushed to the next camp to call for help. He stumbled into Camp 4 at 7,100-meters at 12:30 am suffering from frostbite and with a hurt back.
He has now been out of the hospital for 3 or 4 days. According to sources close to him, he’s recovering but the doctor is unsure about his 3 toes, and doing the warm water and salt baths to try and heal the tissue. I’m happy to report that the fundraiser for Nima has topped $15,000 and is still open for contributions. Its unknown if he will guide again.
While there are many heroes in this story, Nima stands out. The 32 year-old Sherpa from Khumjung is married and has three children, aged 3, 9, and 11 plus supports his 70 year-old mother.
As I reported in deep detail, the two companies involved, – Chin’s guide service Seven Summit Treks (SST) and the company he had a rescue membership with Global Rescue (GR), continue to have differing views of the timeline and actions taken or contracted.
My report generated some additional feedback from both GR and SST so this update will provide an opportunity for their additional thoughts.
I offer this additional detail in the hope that all climbers will fully understand the capabilities of their guide or logistics services and what they are really buying with insurance or evacuation polices or memberships. This tragic event can be used as a learning moment for all of us.
Again, I want to offer my sincere condolences to Dr. Chin’s wife, Ms. Thanaporn Lorchirachoonkul, and to their family and friends around the world.
Global Rescue – Follow the Law
I spent almost an hour with the CEO of GR, Dan Richards on Tuesday, April 30th, 2019. I’ve spoken to him a few times over the years and used their services several times including when I was helicoptered from the Western Cwm after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal.
Richards told me the GR organization was disturbed by how Dr. Chin’s situation unfolded. When I asked him about the transparency that GR didn’t perform searches, he pointed to the website and contract where the policy is very clear. He said that mountain searches can be open ended costing huge amounts of money and cited one on Dhaulagiri ten years ago that lasted over a week and the climber was never found.
He quickly added, that their prime focus is to serve their members, and often do help, sometimes under extreme conditions, where their personnel risk their lives on behalf of their members.
We discussed the difference between their business model and that of an insurance company. He said they are a service company who performs rescue operations and are backed by insurance companies who pay out on expenses when needed. It’s a complex structure that is common in this industry.
Richards stated that GR went into immediate response once notified by SST of Dr. Chin’s situation. He said they immediately contacted the helicopter companies they work with in Nepal, even though it was getting dark and illegal for a helicopter to fly at night per Nepal Aviation rules. He was clear that no helicopter company was willing to risk lives and equipment for a rescue at 7,500 meters.
When asked about the request and criticism that they refused to consider dropping oxygen bottles from a helicopter at the limit of the helicopter ceiling, he said it was outside of both their capability and responsibility to provide oxygen to an expedition and felt that would have been extremely dangerous dropping volatile oxygen cylinders, if not illegal, out of a flying helicopter as was requested by Nirmal Purja Purja ‘Nirmal Purja Purja Purja’ Purja MBE. He was clear that GR follows all local laws and regulations and will not compromise their company, no matter the request.
He was stunned how SST made repeated requests for GR to break laws and put more people at risk with a rescue at that those altitudes. Also, he suggested SST asked both GR and Dr. Chin’s wife to pay for SST Sherpas to climb and recover Dr. Chin.
He referred me a set of Q&A that I included in the update.
Seven Summits Treks – It’s GR Responsibility
Also on April 30th, I communicated extensively with Dawa Sherpa, an owner, founder and director at SST. Dawa was at Annapurna Base Camp and was managing the overall expedition. He was the one communicating with both GR and the Sherpas at Camp 4 who were waiting for instructions on how to proceed. Of note, Dawa was performing the same logistics function for my team on K2 in 2014 and I’ve climbed with him a bit.
Dawa was adamant that SST did nothing wrong and his perception was that GR’s response wasted significant time. He never answered my question if SST really understood that Dr. Chin had a rescue, not a search, membership. He did make the repeated point that SST provided the location coordinates of Dr. Chin early in the process thus they knew where he was thus it was not a search but a rescue.
When I asked him why they didn’t use their own SST helicopters to drop the oxygen per their Sherpa’s request, he said that was GR’s job as part of supporting the rescue and their helicopter didn’t have longline capability.
I also discussed Dr. Chin’s climbing speed and how he got in trouble and trailed the rest of a very large team. Dawa said “Can not stop any climber if they are well enough to go!! And did you see the summit photo of Chin? Chin climbed together with other 30 climbers, during the summit push he was as in level of fitness like others climbers…. This happens all of sudden, this is why they buy Insurance/ Rescue arranges yes? We cannot see future to stop anyone, can you give a point why I should stop him when he was climbing with team and his Sherpa reportedly in normal way! And even climber can decide to go with no Sherpa and no oxygen … it’s their selection !! Sir, we can never figure how personal climber is feeling and going through, if all seems ok then we go through normal climbing strategy. !!!”
I moved on to the issue of asking for someone to pay for the rescue I asked Dawa. “Did SST ask both GR and Dr. Chin wife to pay for SST Sherpas’ time and expenses? I’m being told you were asking $50-$100,000 from both parties to pay for the rescue.” Dawa said “No ! Not to any one! All are fooling you! I do not know why you did not ask Don Bowie before releasing the article ? And who told you sir that we asked for 50-100000 USD ?”
I reached out to Don Bowie but never received a response.
When I asked when SST told GR that Dr. Chin was missing, Dawa responded “He was not missing ? Who told that he is missing ???? We never said,, we told where He was there at the point last meet with Sherpa as update by Nima ,,,,”
As I reported in the original article, the evening that Chin was reported missing, Mingma Sherpa, Chairman of Seven Summit Treks told the Kathmandu based newspaper, The Himalayan Times, “If weather allows, we will conduct an aerial search to locate the missing climber on Mt Annapurna tomorrow morning,”
He concluded with “I do not want to say GR is not good, but this kind of policy, confusion and terms can put others life in danger !!! Even we SST can not understand, not Chins wife and others : what is the meaning of taking rescue insurance ???”
Global Rescue Q&A
There are many unanswered questions as to what happened on Annapurna. Although much is still unknown, we have attempted to clarify Global Rescue’s role in the events surrounding Mr. Kim’s rescue. Our intent is not to assign blame. There are inherent risks in what Mr. Kim chose to do and any rescues above 7,000 meters are extremely difficult and unlikely to be successful. Annapurna is arguably the world’s deadliest 8,000 meter mountain where approximately 35% of climbers who attempt to summit lose their lives. Global Rescue has successfully completed more than a thousand rescues in the Himalaya over the last decade and this was among the most challenging.
1. What is Mr. Chin’s current condition?
Answer: Global Rescue is saddened by the news of Mr. Chin’s passing and we extend our deepest condolences to his family.
2. Why wasn’t there sufficient oxygen at Camp four and why didn’t anyone there immediately try to help Mr. Chin after he was left by his Sherpa guide?
Answer: Global Rescue does not have an answer to this question. These responsibilities are borne by the expedition companies.
3. Why didn’t Global Rescue immediately initiate a search on Wednesday morning?
Answer: Global Rescue’s memberships do not include search as part of the services that are included in the membership. None of Global Rescue’s contracted air providers were capable of flying the mission to search for Mr. Chin because of his location.
4. But Mr. Chin was found by a helicopter search. Why didn’t Global Rescue do this?
Answer: The helicopter company flew one of its helicopters above the altitude limits of the aircraft to conduct the search. This flight was against operating regulations and as such was extremely dangerous. While we’re very glad that the search found Mr. Chin, Global Rescue must always (i) comply with all international and local laws and (ii) have aircraft operators who are willing to fly the mission. In this instance, neither of these criteria were met.
5. Once Mr. Chin was located, why didn’t Global Rescue immediately send a helicopter to get him?
Answer: Dr. Chin’s location was above the operating limits of available aircraft so the only way to rescue him was to move him to a location that would be accessible by aircraft. The climbers on the mountain were the ones best positioned to do this so Global Rescue worked with them to make this possible.
6. There was a shortage of oxygen on the mountain. Why? Why didn’t Global Rescue immediately resupply the oxygen?
Answer: Global Rescue does not have visibility into why the expedition company had not provided sufficient supplies or why there was a shortage of oxygen. An immediate resupply would have required a night-time helicopter flight which no company in the area performs. Camp 4, which is where the climbers were when this request was made according to statements from Nimeral “Nirmal Purja Purja Purja” Purja, is above the limits of available helicopters. Furthermore, it is not within our capability to resupply expeditions (hundreds of expeditions companies are operating in the Himalaya) that haven’t been properly supplied when they run out of oxygen or other essentials.
7. Did Global Rescue delay in offering to provide helicopter support to a rescue mission?
Answer: No. As soon as Global Rescue was informed of the coordinates of Mr. Chin’s location we were in contact with our helicopter providers as well as the expedition company supporting Mr. Chin to determine how/where a helicopter might be able to rescue him. Global Rescue agreed to pay for the costs of the helicopter needed for the rescue. Throughout the day on Wednesday, additional and troubling information became known to Global Rescue. It was later discovered that Mr. Chin’s wife had also been billed for his rescue, unbeknownst to us. Global Rescue was also subsequently contacted by the expedition company demanding to be paid for their help. These demands ranged from $50,000 – $100,000 USD. Global Rescue did not agree to these demands.
8. Why didn’t Global Rescue offer to reimburse the ground teams and others for their costs?
Answer: Global Rescue is a services company, not an insurance company, and we have no ability to reimburse any parties for their expenses or provide open- ended financial commitments. We can and do pay our vendors and partners for their support in delivering our services, but cannot provide reimbursement. It should also be noted that Global Rescue does not bear financial responsibility for the cost of searching for its members.
9. How did Mr. Chin get transported to Singapore?
Answer: Global Rescue arranged, coordinated and paid for an ICU equipped private air ambulance to transport Mr. Kim from Kathmandu to Singapore.
10. Are all the facts of this mission known?
Answer: No. Our information gathering and investigation is ongoing and we will share information as it becomes available.
If there are any lessons from this incident, it’s the new awareness across the climbing community of the details in their evacuation policies – note I didn’t say “insurance.”
I did a brief survey of a few major evacuation companies and noticed they all have limits or exclusions on “search”. For example, TravelEx has a $10,000 limit on search and rescue but you must buy their “adventure package” at an additional cost. And Ripcord has a $25,000 limit for SAR included in their standard policy. It’s difficult to find these clauses and given my experience I had the detail contracts which I re-read closely. In some cases otherwise I never saw any mention of “search” on the company’s website.
My sincere condolence to Dr. Chin’s family and friends and best wishes for a swift recovery to Nima.
Memories are Everything!
Do you maybe know how precise location needs to be in order for GR to initiate rescue? It looks to me like the key question here is if Dr. Chin was lost there on the mountain with location unknown or not precise enough? In my opinion this is what determines who should have done what and when…
I don’t know. I assume each company has their own rules. One major factor was he was known to be higher than 6500 meters, the ceiling that was mentioned for helicopter rescues. But the exact altitude may be incorrect.
When Dr. Chin was sighted by the helicopter it was flying in the general area where Nima said he left him and the video show him in the main boot path and waving to the helicopter.
Thank you for drawing attention to the search versus rescue issue that occurred around Dr Chin on Annapurna. We may not know for sure if it would have changed Dr Chin’s death. But everyone involved and everyone who read it can agree on one thing. They would not want their own life or death to depend on proper paperwork and confusion over who picks up the bill. This runs counter to my personal views, but perhaps search and/or rescue as a private service isn’t the best solution. My husband was an USAF Paraescue Jumper (combat search and rescue) for 13 years, and obviously financial burden is not a variable they weigh. PJs are stationed at Camp 14 on Denali to perform civilian search and rescues, billing only for helicopter and subsequent hospital care. Likewise, on Matterhorn, as seen in Netflix series “The Horn”, rescue is a private business sponsored heavily by the government. Perhaps the cost of potential searches should be imbedded in permit prices with the financial burden spread across all member permits. I realize corruption could be the subsequent issue, but the government would see which guide services request searches too often, suggesting corruption or lacking safety standards.
Hi Alan. My deepest condolences to Dr Chin’s family. I do agree if GR claims exorbitant money was requested that they should provide proof. From what I have recently learnt, no insurance or membership cover search. I don’t think many people realise this.
I aasume SST are not to familiar with policies and memberships much like most of us thus they were probably in a shock when GR declined their requests,thou GR was within their rights. What a surprise that was for most of us too.
SST did a good job with the rescue however wasted time banking on GR. In moving forward, SST must not assume there will be no accident on these mountains and there must be ample 02 bottles aside kept specifically only rescue use at every camp.
We never can never be too sure of the climbers evacuation policy these days.
The size of Dr Chin’s group at 32 is quite a number to manage and keep track thus I do hope there will be a max number per group and a cut off time to sumit all must adhere. Everyone should carry a walkie talkie and climbers categorized according to their experience level. A less experienced climber could be left behind or slow down the ones in front.
I do feel the team leader should be designated by SST with some thought into who will do well to have some responsibility to ensure climbers are not left behind.
Climbers without sherpas should pair up and the sherpa or paired climbers should each know where the other keeps their satelite phone and know how to work it.
SST should not assume every climber is experienced. They should look in depth into how they can minimize tragedies with a better set up of controls. They should know now insurance/memberships will not break rules or move out of the box. They must know the general rules well enough not to waste time expecting what is not covered. They should not just fix ropes and generally cordinate but appoint a team leader and sweeper that has experience and implement a buddy system whereby every climber has a climber mate to check in with if possible. They will need to reacess if Camp 4 can be adjusted down just at the max heli height and ensure enough oxygen and supplies are at each camp. Don Bowie has on his IG posted he will write soon on the climb and give his views on the rescue. I am eagerly awaiting his report. It does seem as thou nobody else that climbed has anything to say. Great reporting Allan. Thank you!
The “product” you describe is not what SST offers. If they provided all the elements you describe, their prices would go up and, imho, that is not their business model. Not saying I agree or disagree, thats just not what they do in my experience. Maybe this event will drive some changes, we’ll see.
There are other “rescue” companies who do cover search – TravelEx and Ripcord, but have dollar limits on how much.
This story is tragic. This climber could have been saved. So unfortunate that it could not be coordinated. Sounds as though Global Research is not a good choice for an
8000m peak. Where were the backup O’s? And extra tailend guides? Seems as though multiple facets were off kilter here. God Bless all that have suffered as a result!
Seven Summits Treks does not “guide” in the traditional sense. They provide logistics – base camp tents, coordinate fixing ropes but they don’t take responsibility to “guide”. Their clients are usually experienced like Don Bowie and Tunc Fudic, but not always, and usually price sensitive. They claim there was plenty of oxygen for a climber moving a standard speeds could summit and get back to C4 safely. People usually choose SST based on price however,I have friends that regularly climb with them, however they are very experienced. They provided my base camp services for K2 in 2014. As for GR, they have provided excellent services for climbers on 8000ers for many years, including me.
Thanks Alan for the detailed examination on the topic. It looks from here that unless someone has influential supporters – like an embassy/ambassador as it happend in the case of Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi (not mentioning the searching teams dedication) – the person has very reduced chances to be searched if goes missing. I am not too educated about the climbing society, but in the 21st century why don’t the climbers have GPS attached to their dresses?
My deepest condolences to Mr Chin’s family.
Many of these high profile search were funded by crowd funding. Tom and Daniele had insurance but it was tiny compared to what the Pakistan Military charged thus the call to the public. The Chin case had other issues. Chin had a sat phone but Nima couldn’t get it to work, for some reason. Lots went wrong in this tragic case.
i think GR should release the recording of the conversation where SST asks for money to send sherpas. They obviously record all calls given their business and especially the fraud issues of late.
This is tragic. From your blog I’ve realized that rescue in the mountains should never be assumed even with contacts, fame, money and insurance.
Thanks Alan for your reporting.