The tragic story of Annapurna climbers Malaysian Wui Kin Chin, 49, and Nima Tshering Sherpa, 32, is becoming a bit more clear. They summited Annapurna around 3:50 pm on April 23, 2019, in high winds and deep snow already weakened. 30 other people also summited but Chin became extremely fatigued while descending.
Through a series of events, he went missing for over 40 hours, left alone above 7,500-meters fully exposed to the elements before an extremely risky rescue could retrieve him. The last update on his condition, on Sunday, April 28, 2019, said he was being flown from Kathmandu by air-ambulance to Singapore where he lives. It’s being reported that he has lost his hands and legs to severe frostbite.
In my opinion, it appears this entire incident was a case of a climber with a late start, not turning around earlier when trouble first began, and poor communications between the companies – Seven Summit Treks (SST) and Global Rescue (GR). Also poor communication, and a lack of understanding of the coverage the client had bought. Finally, the ill-will between the companies complicated communications and resulted in Dr. Chin and Nima having paid the price. That said, there are also examples of making exceptions to rules, unusual courage and unselfish acts that resulted in both men being alive today.
A large international team made up of 17 Sherpas and 16 foreigners summited late in the day around 3:50 pm on April 23, 2019. Annapurna has a deadly reputation as one of the most difficult 8000-meter peaks with a success rate of only 33%. It is the most dangerous of all fourteen 8,000-meter mountains. The Himalayan Database reports that prior to these summits there has only been 266 summits and 71 deaths for a death rate of 3.89. Everest’s death rate is 1.15, the third lowest of the 8000-meter peaks found in Nepal and Tibet.
Chin and Nima had previously climbed together and Chin had specifically requested to Seven Summit Treks, the organizer, to have him on this climb as his personal Sherpa. As Chin and Nima began their descent from the summit around 5:00 pm, Chin became too slow to move on his own and ran out of oxygen. They were the last climbers in the group descending. Now they were in trouble and alone.
According to sources who have spoken to Nima in the hospital, he gave the last of his supplemental oxygen to Chin and left for help. Chin sat down in the deep snow with a small area carved out of the boot path on the 8,091 meter/26,545 foot Annapurna, only 591-meters/1,939-feet below the summit. Nima descended to Camp 4 hoping to find help and unused oxygen, which was a long shot given the size of the team and everyone had already summited and almost all had left for lower camps. Nima staggered into the camp, frostbitten and hurt, calling for an immediate rescue as the sun was setting. Only one foreign climber was still there, Canadian Don Bowie.
Rescue but No Search
It was at this point Seven Summit Treks became aware of the growing crisis and started a rescue mission. Their first call was to Global Rescue, Chin’s evacuation company, to initiate a search and rescue operation. But the US company does not conduct or pay for searches. This technicality, albeit clear in their contracts, began a chain of delays.
One of the members of the rescue party, Nirmal Purja later said all they asked GR to do was drop six oxygen cylinders at Camp 3 so they could reach Chin, and give him oxygen to bring him down. He claims GR refused due to technical reason around helicopter altitude limitations and flying at night.
Its at this point when the finger pointing began. GR says they are not a search and rescue company and will only dispatch a helicopter if they know the location of their member. However, they said upon notification, they did contact their contracted helicopter company but it was too late in the day because Nepal aviation regulations prohibit night flights. Remember they summited at 5:00 pm.
The evening 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 went on to comment on working with Global Rescue, ‘According to him, the search couldn’t be conducted today due to a lengthy insurance process. “It’s highly impossible to carry out search on foot above Camp IV on Mt Annapurna,” Sherpa claimed, adding that insurance clearance procedure has ultimately delayed the search mission.”
Over the night hours of Tuesday into Wednesday, April 24th, and into Thursday the 25th negations took place between Seven Summits Treks, Global Rescue and even Chin’s wife in Singapore. Tashi Sherpa, MD of Seven Summits Treks, told me over 30 calls were placed to Global Rescue. With no resolution in sight, Thursday morning Chin’s wife approved payment for a helicopter search by Simrik Air who had a helicopter with longline capability. However it would be risky. The altitude where Chin was, and Camp 4 where Nima had stopped, was above the operating ceiling of the helicopter. In spite of this risk, Capitan Bibek Khadka, flew to where Chin was last seen, around 7,500-meters, and spotted the climber waving at the helicopter.
Khadka told the newspaper Efe, “We flew to Annapurna on Thursday after knowing that a climber has been missing. But it was too difficult to rescue him from over 7,000 meters. We then flew four Sherpas to an altitude of 6,500 that day.”
The team of four Sherpas, including Nirmal Purja who is on a project to summit all 14 8000-meters in seven months hoping to break the record of 7 years, began to prepare for the rescue at Annapurna base camp. Camp 3 is too high for a helicopter to safely land and then take-off so the Sherpas were carried by a long rope hanging from Khadka’s helicopter, called longline, to Camp 3 at 6,500 meters. They then climbed to Camp 4 at 7,100-meters in 90 minutes then on to Chin at 7,500-meters. They found him in bad shape and put him in a sled and drug him back to Camp 4 and eventually Camp 3 where he was airlifted to Kathmandu.
Capitan Khadka made seven flights during the rescue operations, some in very high and dangerous winds. He added “On Friday morning, due to high wind, we had to return several times, waiting for a window of good weather,” he said. “It was one of the most difficult long line rescues I had conducted ever. After waiting for hours, we had succeeded rescuing him at 11:00 am only.”
I now have a statement from his evacuation company, Global Rescue and Dawa Sherpa who is a Director at Seven Summit Treks and was at Annapurna Base Camp directing the activity during the incident. I also reached out to Nirmal Purja who has been very critical of the support they received and Nima Tshering Sherpa, who is in the hospital with serious frostbite and a reported spine injury but have had no reply.
Failure to Communicate
Both SST and GR agree on some of the basics – a delay in responding. That GR refused to help with a search because they are Global Rescue, not Global Search and Rescue. One point, GR is not an insurance company. They are a “membership” company who facilitates extractions of individuals due to health issues, natural disaster, national conflicts, plane crashes, boat capsizing, etc. They cover individuals, corporations and governments. A key point is that GR will only send help if they have the exact location. In the contract it clearly states (emphasis is mine):
“Field Rescue” – The transport of a Traveling Member by ground, air, or sea to a hospital, clinic or other medical provider capable of providing care to a Traveling Member whose condition requires Hospitalization or is likely to cause serious permanent injury or death, but they are unable to get to a hospital. Field Rescue does not include any activities related to search and the Traveling Member’s location must be known.
As demonstrated in both statements there is ill-will between SST and GR. In a 2018 conversation with GR CEO Dan Richards, he told me that they don’t work with SST due to a lack of transparency. When I followed up on how do GR members know if their guide is not preferred by GR, I was told that “We did not know that Mr. Chin was using them. Most of our members enroll and don’t tell us where they’re going or which expedition companies they intend to utilize. We haven’t historically published this list but we will be issuing an advisory to our climbing members regarding STT. This will be the first time we’ve ever done this regarding any operator in our 15 year history. We work with more than 2,000 tour operators, outfitters and guide companies and STT’s actions are the worst we’ve ever seen.”
Seven Summits Treks and 14K Peaks, sister companies are owned by brothers Mingma, Tashi and Dawa. They also have a helicopter company, Heli Everest. I asked Dawa why they didn’t use their own helicopter in this operation. He said it was not equipped for longline rescues and that GR would not support them using it anyway. Given Mr. Chin had coverage with GR, they felt bound to follow GR’s rules.
Nima is in a Kathmandu hospital receiving treatment for frostbite and his injuries. Dawa said when asked about his medical bills that “medical insurance is covered by local insurance company of Nepal and yes same procedure we follow instructed by Department of Tourism… if the cost of his treatment is more than the insurance covers, our company will help in this matter !” A fundraiser has been set up for Nima as he will potentially be out of work.
Dr. Chin is a Senior Anaesthesiologist at Singapore-based Ng Teng Fong General Hospital He had successfully climbed Mt Everest completing the Seven Summits in the last spring season.
Statement from Seven Summits Treks
Dear Alan, I am In Kathmandu now and was handling the expedition in Annapurna during the incident happened and I do agree on Nim’s post. GR took a long time and made it lengthy, though the evaluation consist some risk as well..
23rd Evening we informed GR about the incident and asked for help, our 6 Sherpas were there at C4 including NIMS / Don Bowie and at least 4 of them we were supposed to send them for rescue and what we need it just some oxygen bottles to drop in C4, even if not possible them somewhere between C4 to C3.
We had some fresh Sherpas at Basecamp asked them if they can drop these Sherpa to C4, if not Sherpas then just oxygen bottles !!!! After multiple phone calls with GR and several emails 24th late Noon (after loosing the Golden Rescue time) GR denied to help. They said its too risky and non of the pilot and heli is ready to make sling flight to higher camp. But I know and my experiences say Heli can drop oxygens to C4 (oxygen is lighter then human and less risk) its similar to Everest C3 (AnnaC4) so its possible, ifits not possible than why I will ask Help to them….
It took almost 24 hours to them (GR) to confirm that they are not helping us and the worst part is even they hold his wife and to us, if they have had told us in 23rd Night or 24th Morning then we would have done by ourself, likewise we did later on 25th. This man would been been in Hospital in better condition than current, if GR either have said NO or did not hold us to do something from our side.
At C4 we pause our Sherpas, Nirmal Purja and Don Bowie almost for 15 hrs saying GR is doing something and they will send some help, and this is what GR said ”we are doing, co ordinating with ground team- we will confirm soon please wait”. GR told same words to kin’s wife as well.
All climber at C4 were extremely experienced and well known rescue members : Nirmal Purja, Don Bowie, Gesman Tamang, Mingma Gyabu, Gelje and Halung Dorchi, we operated several rescues in past so I was fully confident its much possible to bring Mr. Kin down, but GR said NO its not possible to send Heli, its risk, numbers of reasons to deny to help. If they would have been little responsibility to their members (GR members) and understood us then I am sure this operation would have been done one day earlier…you can ask Don Bowie better he can explain you as well
Now GR said they do not get any information about the location of Mr. Kin but We send them the last location with Coordinates , they knew actually but now they said they were not informed. I have copy of emails as well.
I am frustrated : why GR let customers to buy their policy and do not help when they really need it !!!
Just writing on FB and Social Sites do not prove than they did this all: all helicopter amount was earlier paid by Kin’s wife and these all Sherpa support we SST managed, I am happy that Nirmal Purja and Other Sherpas agreed to go, this is the sign of Humankind. We all did our job [un]selflessly, All team members put their 100% to make things like miracles. But I am surprised and it’s weird that GR is claiming that they did it all !! Seriously ??? Seems that they can lie to whole world ????
This is not the very first time they denied to help, SST lose more than 100,000 USD in this sorts of case related to GR !!
I am much disappointed; how they cannot just send one heli shuttling oxygen to C4 !! On the thing they said NO, we and the help of his wife we made it!!! Better they GR do not accept any customers who are willing to come for climbing in Nepal !!
I went on to ask Dawa about Nima Tshering and if they had radios to communicate during the rescue operation. Dawa’s reply:
We provided enough radio sets (2:1 radio) with member and Sherpa, Nima Tshering get hurt in his feet, badly weak and because Kin and Nima were slow, it was already dark on the same day its hard to send help as all other member were tired, they climbed Annapurna 1, and they were willing to go for help but we had no Oxygen Bottles left !
It is standard practice that all members are supplied with adequate amounts of oxygen, and despite an extremely long summit day all other members safely returned to Camp with ampleoxygen to continue to descend the following day
Therefore there was no shortage of oxygen as Global Rescue claims. The oxygen requested was additional than the expedition requirements in order to assist Global Rescues client who was in need., We provide enough oxygen to each climber enough to come back till C4 !
FYI, the Sherpa Nima Tshering is with BUT he was chosen by Wui Kin himself, Wui asked us to recruit Sherpa during the expedition with him, Nima and Kin climbed together other 8000m peak in the past.
What-else I can say, I found the process and the every act of GR is putting their policy buyers life is risk !!
Statement from Global Rescue
On Tuesday afternoon, April 23, a Malaysian climber and Global Rescue member, Wui Kin Chin, summited Mount Annapurna. We’ve been told that shortly after beginning his descent, he became increasingly lethargic and collapsed in the snow and that his Sherpa guide, approaching the limits of his own endurance, left him with what little oxygen he could spare and descended to Camp four to find help. When he arrived, the other climbers he found were unwilling or unable to help (over 30 climbers had summited that day) and the camp was short on supplies, including oxygen, that was needed to climb back up the mountain to assist with a rescue (Global Rescue does not have visibility into why the expedition was not properly equipped with adequate oxygen and other necessary supplies; the expedition provider responsible has been under investigation by the Nepalese government for fraud and was recently fined for issuing fake climbing permits and participating in fake rescue scams. More details on this site and specific article1 and article2). In addition, the altitude of their location prevented a timely resupply of what was needed.
Desperate to help Mr. Chin, we were told the Sherpa guide contacted his expedition company to tell them he had left Mr. Chin somewhere between Camp four and the summit and that he was in need of help.
Late that day, Global Rescue received the call that Mr. Chin had been abandoned by his expedition team and was alone somewhere below the summit of Annapurna at approximately 23,000 feet. Mr. Chin’s actual location and grid coordinates were unknown. Although Global Rescue is not a search company (our membership services provide rescue from known locations only), we contacted our Nepal ground team and our vetted helicopter providers to determine if a search was possible the following morning as it was late in the day (no rotary wing aircraft fly at night in the Himalaya). All of our contracted helicopter providers, which include some of the most experienced high altitude / rescue pilots in Nepal, said they were unable to perform the mission for safety reasons because the altitude was above the limits of their aircraft. With that information, Global Rescue attempted to contact Mr. Chin’s next of kinnto discuss a ground search mission which could take several days to complete.
On Wednesday morning, Mr. Chin’s wife paid a helicopter provider to search for her husband. The provider agreed to fly above the operating threshold of the aircraft in a mission that risked not only the life of the pilot but those on the ground. Global Rescue was not aware of this mission until it was already underway. It should be noted that Global Rescue, as a matter of policy, always complies with local and international law and cannot provide services that might violate them. Despite these issues, the pilot was able to locate Mr. Chin, whose movements indicated he was alive.
Upon receiving this good news and the coordinates of Mr. Chin’s location, Global Rescue immediately initiated communication to provide a helicopter rescue, supported by a ground team, that would try and reach Mr. Chin and bring him to a location where he could be safely retrieved by helicopter. The only people able to perform these services were those already on the mountain, so Global Rescue retained the helicopter operators who had located Mr. Chin to ensure he was rescued (we found out later that Mr. Chin’s wife was also solicited for payment for the cost of the rescue). Despite these transgressions and the fact that what was being demanded to perform the rescue far exceeded industry standards, the rescue was successfully completed on Thursday after a ground team was able to reach Mr. Chin. He was evacuated via a helicopter longline and transferred to a hospital in Kathmandu. After his arrival, Global Rescue monitored and supported Mr. Chin’s care with an on-the-ground team deployed from the United States and Asia.
On Saturday morning, Global Rescue coordinated the medical evacuation of Mr. Chin to a hospital in Singapore, his home of record, via private medically equipped air ambulance. Mr. Chin remains in critical condition.
Global Rescue would like to thank all those involved in this complex operation as we continue to work with Mr. Chin’s family and the broader community to support his recovery.
Note: GR has provided an additional Q&A that can be downloaded from this link.
On April 23, 2019 multiple officers of Seven Summit Treks, Sherpas on the team plus foreign climbers announced that Annapurna I had been summited by 32 people. On April 22, Dawa Sherpa posted that the rope team led the others to the summit and topped out at 15:10.
Huge Congratulation and respect to Nirmal Purja, Gyalgen Sherpa, Mingma Gyabu Sherpa, Nga Tashi Sherpa, Pasang Dawa Sherpa and Halung Dorchi Sherpa who played a vital role to lead the fixing team to the summit of Mt. Annapurna 1, today around 15:10 hrs all five of them climbed the 10th highest peak marking as first 8000m summit of the season.
April 23 5:38 pm Seven Summit Treks
This afternoon multiple climber marked the first ascent of 8000m in this spring 2019 by making the successful ascent of Mt. Annapurna I situated at an altitude of 8091 m / 26,545 ft. As per the last update by director of Seven Summit Treks Chhang Dawa Sherpa from the basecamp at least 31 Climbers including climbing Sherpa guide reached to the top following the Northwest Face of world’s 10th highest peak. “more than 5 other international climbers at the basecamp are waiting for next weather window” Dawa added. Chhang Dawa himself climbed all 14 eight thousanders between 2001 to 2013, Annapurna I in 2012 Spring.
Before Seven Summits, the official operator, made a public announcement, Nirmal Purja that a climber was missing and a rescue was underway:
April 24 9:28 am Seven Summit Treks
LATEST UPDATE : RESCUE TEAM HAS BEEN DISPATCHED. Thank you for your support everyone. Stay tuned for more updates!
Chin Wui kin is still alive on Annapurna ( HELP) Action required – Global rescue ( his insurance company) to authorise the rescue.
Request – can someone with media power help us please? Current Situation- my team is waiting at the base camp for heli support but this can only be achieved if the rescue company authorise the rescue. Let’s save life.
April 25 12:33 pm Seven Summit Treks
Wui Kin (Malaysia) been tracked : Marked by red circle his location ! Seven Summit Treks is operating long line and dropping don Sherpas to C3 , Sherpa will continue to the place where Wui Kin Chin is !!! We hope success on bringing him down !! Let’s pray !
April 25 12:39 pm Seven Summit Treks
Dawa Sherpa co-ordinating with the rescue team, 4 Sherpas (including NIMS) have been dropped to C3 (6500m) team will
Continue to the point where Mr. Wui Kin got stuck!! Takes some hours !!! Note: check the photo marked by red Circle where Wui Kin Chin is been tracked !
April 25 1:14 pm Seven Summit Treks
Its extreme but we are trying, the team of Rescue, Nirmal Purja, Mingma Gyabu, Gesman Tamang and Gelje Sherpa heading from C3-6500m toward the place where Malaysian Climber Wui Kin been located.
Rescue Mission have been started and team is dispatched !! @nimsdai @mingma_david_sherpa !! Dawa Sherpa @14dawa is handling and coordinating with the Rescue team from BC ! Endless effort by the team of Elite Himalayan Adventures and Seven Summit Treks ! Lets hope we can bring him down alive !
April 25 4:45 pm Nirmal Purja
The rescue team of four, highly capable extreme high-altitude Sherpa guides; @mingma_david_sherpa , Galjen Sherpa, @gesmantamang, lead by @nimsdai have been despatched for the evacuation of the missing Climber Chin Wui Kin this morning.
The recent comms reports that the team got dropped off at Camp 3 (6,500m) and it took them nearly 90 mins to reach Camp 4 (7100m) as wind is picking up slightly. The approximate vicinity where Chin Wui was spotted is around 7500m.