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 ‘Nims’ 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 “Nims” 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!